Wings of Freedom brings WWII B-17 to Vacaville

In honor of World War II veterans, The Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour will bring a rare B-17 bomber and fighter aircraft to the Nut Tree Airport from Wednesday through Friday.

As part of the 110-city nationwide tour, the World War II vintage Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Consolidated B-24 Liberator and North American P-51 Mustang will be on display at the airport, 301 County Airport Road, Vacaville.

Visitors will have access to up-close viewing and tours through the inside of the aircraft.

While the B-17 is one of only 11 in flying condition in the United States, the B-24J and Full Dual Control P-51C Mustang are the sole remaining examples of their type flying in the world. Visitors may also take a 30-minute flight. Flights on either the B-17 or B-24 are $425 per person.

 

Source: Mercury News

Wings of Freedom tour lands at CCRA next week

Collin County residents shouldn’t be alarmed when a four-engine bomber and fighter planes fly over their homes next week. America is not on the brink of World War III.

The Wings of Freedom Tour will make a stop in McKinney for the first time in 22 years.

The Collings Foundation is flying its tour to 110 cities around the nation, showcasing World War II and Vietnam aircraft to honor veterans and provide a living history of machines that fought for the world’s freedom.

“If you read or listen to history, you might remember it,” said Hunter Chaney, director of marketing for the foundation. “But if you live it, you will never forget it.”

The tour will be on display 2-5 p.m. on Monday, March 14; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on March 15; and 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on March 16. The display will be located at Cutter Aviation, 1500 Industrial Blvd., Suite 100 in McKinney. For reservations and more information on flight experiences, call 800-568-8924 or visit their website.

A kid sits in the gunner position aboard a P-51 Mustang fighter jet

The foundation has done the annual tour for 22 years, allowing more than 4 million people to experience the aircraft each year. The tour’s next stop is March 14-16 at the Collin County Regional Airport (CCRA) in McKinney.

And the tour doesn’t feature just any old planes. It will have on display a B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, P-51 Mustang and a Bell UH-1EHuey” helicopter. The first three had a major role in WWII, while the latter is renowned for its part in Vietnam. Each aircraft is a rarity with significance that veterans remember well and that visitors can experience for the first time.

“It’s so vitally important to remember these times in history,” Chaney said. “When you encounter something that would otherwise be intangible, that’s when it truly sticks with you.”

The B-24 Liberator Witchcraft” Heavy Bomber is the most mass-produced aircraft in American history. During WWII, more than 18,000 were made at a rate of one per day. Some of the bombers were made in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Military officials generally credit the Liberators as a big part of the industrial might that helped the Allies win the war. The tour’s Liberator is the only remaining one of its kind left in the world.

The tour also features the world’s only remaining flight-ready P-51 Mustang, an aircraft Chaney called the “Cadillac of fighters.” And the B-17 Flying Fortress is one of only 11 in flying condition left in the country.

The Huey is a tribute to Vietnam veterans and is present at just some of the stops on the tour. It has a significant local connection to CCRA.

Kenneth Wiegand, executive director for CCRA, flew the Huey during his two tours in Vietnam. Wiegand was in the 71st Assault Helicopter Company during his first tour from February 1967 to February 1968. For the first three months, he hauled troops to landing zones and dropped supplies and ammunition. He was co-pilot for the first lift of Operation Junction City, the war’s largest operation, but Wiegand said he grew to dislike his missions’ lack of aggression.

“I got tired of getting shot at and not being able to shoot back,” Wiegand said.

He got the opportunity to return fire once he started flying UH-1C helicopters, which were faster, sportier and well-equipped with heavy guns and ammunition. During the early months of flying the gunner helicopters, Wiegand co-piloted the first U.S. helicopter to attack a Vietnamese ship. One of Wiegand’s flying partners was Chuck Carlock, author of “Firebirds,” a first-hand account of his and other helicopter pilots’ roles in Vietnam.

Wiegand will be one of many war veterans at CCRA for the tour, available to talk to and share their stories about flying the aircraft.

Visitors will have access to up-close viewing and tours through the inside of the aircraft. Ground tours will cost $12 for adults and $6 for children under 12. Veterans in attendance can tour for free. Chaney said the best part of the tour is the opportunity for visitors to actually take flight tours in the aircraft.

“When you’re in them and crawling around, it’s special,” Chaney said. “If you’re in them and up in the air, it’s like you’re back in 1945. You have the chance to explore different positions in the aircraft and get a feel for what it would have been like.”

The 30-minute flights will take place before and after the ground tours, and visitors can fly in the aircraft of their choice, each for a different price.

Chaney said that the veteran crew that comes on the tour makes it special but that their presence was quickly declining. Most WWII veterans are about 85-90 years old, so Chaney encourages people to come out and talk to them while they still can.

“The numbers are certainly dwindling,” he said. “That’s what makes programs like these so vitally important.

“The generation of WWII veterans is called by some ‘the greatest generation’ because they had a particular grit about them.”

It is estimated that almost 90 million people from around the world died in WWII. Young men, some just 17-years-old, flew American planes during the war. Chaney said the tour is a lasting opportunity for citizens to remember such men. It can be an enjoyable one, as well.

“The whole thing is way up there on the cool factor,” he said. “There’s just nothing like it.”

 

- courier-gazette.com