Aviation history will be on display in Marana this month as a number of vintage World War II aircraft will come to the Marana Regional Airport as part of the Wings of Freedom Tour.
The Collings Foundation is bringing the three vintage aircraft to Marana to honor WWII veterans as well as educate younger generations through living history. On display April 8-10 will be a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Consolidated B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell and North American P-51 Mustang.
“We are looking forward to bringing the national Wings of Freedom tour to the Marana Regional Airport,” said Hunter Chaney of the Collings Foundation. “Touring through and flying in these amazing WWII bombers and fighter aircraft is a memorable living-history experience. Even more so when you have the chance to talk with a local WWII veteran in such a unique setting.”
Fans are able to sit in and tour the aircraft and, for an additional fee, visitors will be able to fly in the planes.
The Wings of Freedom Tour was designed as a flying tribute to the flight crews and ground crews who aided the Allied war effort, as well as the workers who built the planes; the soldiers, sailors and airmen they helped protect; and the citizens and families that share the
freedom that they helped preserve.
The B-17, B-25 and B-24 bombers were the backbone of the American effort during the war and were famous for their ability to sustain damage and still accomplish the mission.
“Despite the risks of anti-aircraft fire, attacking enemy fighters, and the harrowing environment of sub-zero temperatures, many B-17s and B-24s safely brought their crews home,” said Chaney.
The B-24 is believed to be the world’s only fully restored and flying consolidated B-24J Liberator. The Collings foundation originally purchased the plane to use as a static display, but was convinced by B-24 crews to return it to the skies.
“This made it about five times greater a project,” said Bob Collings, co-founder of the Collings Foundation. “We were convinced by the argument that only about 3,000 people a year would see a static display, but 3 million might see it on a nationwide tour.”
It took more than five years and 97,000 man hours to return the plane to the sky.
The B-17, also known as the “Flying Fortress,” was used as a fire bomber that dropped water and borate on forest fires after the war, but was finally purchased by the foundation and returned to her original wartime configuration.
The P-51 Mustang was a fighter plane known as the “little friend” of the bombers as they escorted the larger aircraft and help protect them from attacking fighters.
Not many of these planes are left. Most were salvaged after the war for their raw aluminum and other metal parts that could be used in the manufacturing boom of post-war America.
In 26 years, the tour has made more than 2,900 visits to airports across the United States and Alaska. While the exact number of visitors is difficult to gauge, it is estimated that between 3.5 and 4 million people see these war birds annually.
In addition to seeing the planes, the foundation hopes visitors will engage the veterans who come out in conversation to learn more about their experiences to keep the oral history alive and learn more about the nation’s heritage.
The tour opens at 2 p.m. on April 8 and runs through 5 p.m. on April 10 at the Marana Regional Airport.