For nearly 30 years, Perrin Air Force Base served as a home for many military aircraft, ranging from the B-25 Mitchell bomber during World War II to the Cessna T-37 during the Vietnam War. While those days are long passed for North Texas Regional Airport — Perrin Field, the B-25 and other aircraft from that era have returned to the former air base, even if only for a few days.
As a part of a roaming exhibit entitled “The Wings of Freedom Tour,” four vintage WWII aircraft landed at NTRA on Monday and will be on display through Wednesday. The event is part of a 110-stop tour by the nonprofit Collings Foundation to increase knowledge and awareness of historic vehicles and their significance during the times of war.
“The mission is to have a flying, living museum … as opposed to museum pieces people can just see from behind a rope,” Collings Foundation volunteer Will Dismukes said on Tuesday.
Officials with the airport said crowds for the event started showing up early Monday afternoon and remained strong into Tuesday.
“Yesterday the crowds were great,” Interim Airport Director Terry Morrow said. “As soon as the B-17 landed, people started showing up.”
The aircraft on display included a rare Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, one of only about a dozen still airworthy, and one of only two Consolidated B-24 Liberators that still see flight.
The Liberator, named Witchcraft, saw service during the war as a part of the Royal Air Force and later the Indian Air Force before being decommissioned. The aircraft was later rebuilt and restored to flying condition in the 1980s. More recently, the Witchcraft was used in the filming of the 2014 film “Unbroken,” Dismukes said.
During a tour of the aircraft, Dismukes pointed out the places that crewmen would man machine guns in the unpressurized hull. During combat, servicemen would wear insulated suits and breathe through oxygen masks for hours at a time due to the low-pressure and cold temperatures at high altitude, he said.
“It puts a whole new perspective on things when we complain about missing a second helping of Coke on a luxury airliner,” Dismukes said.
During a stop in Dallas, Dismukes said he had the opportunity to speak to an elderly man who was there to show his niece the plane her father once flew— the B-25. Afterward, the man asked to see the B-24, the plane he flew during the war. Dismukes said the man survived a strike that killed most of his fellow crewmen during the war. Upon sitting in the pilot’s seat decades after the war, the man almost immediately started to cry, Dismukes said.
“Here he was in Dallas, sitting in the same pilot seat all these years later,” he said.
In addition to the aircraft, the Red River Valley chapter of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association displayed jeeps and other ground vehicles that saw service.
“The planes are neat, and people don’t get to see the planes often, but these vehicles were also heavily in service during the war,” Howell Brown said while standing next to a pair of Ford GPW jeeps from the 1940s.
Brown said one of the jeeps spent some time in Italy after the war before returning to California years later. From California, Brown said the jeep came to Grayson County where it was found moving wrecked cars in a junkyard.
Other ground vehicle displays included a troop carrier designed to move about 10 soldiers at a time.
By showing off the aircraft to current generations, Dismukes said he hopes children and youth today can gain insight on what the generations before them went through during a time of war.
“I think honestly, when a young person comes out and crawls through the airplane, touches the metal, it gives them a real perspective of what these airmen went through,” he said.