Friday, October 31, 2014

‘Wings of Freedom’ tour allows visitors to fly classic warplanes

Classic World War II aircraft will be flying into Lynchburg Regional Airport this week with the Collings Foundation’s 22nd annual “Wings of Freedom” tour.

Mustang pilots — The famed Tuskeegee Airmen flew P-51 Mustangs similar to the Collings Foundation's “Betty Jane.” U.S. Air Force photo

The nonprofit aviation history foundation from Stow, Mass. conducts tours and flights with aircraft from World War I through the Cold War. The Collings Foundation is a regular at air shows across the country.

B-17G Flying Fortress “Nine O Nine,” B-24J Liberator “Witchcraft” and P-51C Mustang “Betty Jane” will be available for tours from Oct. 19 to 21. Adults can explore the aircraft on the tarmac for $12, $6 for children.

Guests who want to experience flight in the bombers can pay $425 for half an hour in either “Nine O Nine” or “Witchcraft.” Because the P-51 Mustang is a dual-seater — the last of its kind in flying condition — visitors can actually fly the 60-year-old fighter plane for $2,200 for half an hour or $3,200 for an hour.

The three aircraft are iconic for their role in winning World War II through strategic bombing of German factories. Mustangs were known as “Little Friends” by the bomber crews they escorted all the way to Berlin and back.

According to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, more than 15,000 Mustangs were built of all types following its introduction in 1942. The fighter scored 4,950 air-to-air kills in World War II — far more than any other Allied aircraft. A 1943 Popular Science article called the plane “a latter-day miracle.”

“… I find that (the Mustang) is the outstanding fighter plane anywhere in the world,” legendary American ace Eddie Rickenbacker said in a Popular Mechanics article from the same year.

The Collings Foundation’s Liberator is the only B-24J in flying condition left in the world. The bomber is painted in the same scheme as “Witchcraft,” a Liberator that recorded 130 combat missions over Europe with the 8th Air Force, according to the foundation’s website.

More than 18,000 B-24s were built in World War II — more than any other American combat aircraft in history. The Liberator is partly known for its role in the unsuccessful Aug. 1, 1943 raid on oil refineries in Ploiesti, Romania. 53 bombers and 660 airmen were lost on “Black Sunday,” the worst single-day losses suffered by the U.S. Army Air Forces, according to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

The Collings Foundation’s B-17 “Nine O Nine” is one of only 14 such aircraft in flying condition in America. Famous for the “Memphis Belle” — the first American bomber to complete 25 combat missions in World War II — the B-17 Flying Fortress is an iconic image of the conflict.

The original “Nine O Nine” completed 140 successful missions without losing a crewmember. The bomber flew with the 91st Bomb Group from Feb. 25, 1944 through the end of the war, making 18 flights to Berlin and dropping more than half a million pounds of bombs in the process, according to the foundation’s website.

Visitors interested in reserving a flight aboard any of the three aircraft can visit the Collings Foundation’s website at collingsfoundation.org/cf_flightexperiences or call 1-800-568-8924.

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