They once darkened the skies over Europe and the Pacific as America’s Greatest Generation pushed back the Axis forces. Now there are precious few of the aircraft that won World War II still flying.
Warbirds, aircraft fabled in film, song and history, carried the fight to the enemy. Thanks to the Wings of Freedom Tour, folks will get a chance to get an up close look at three famous American aircraft of that monumental struggle. Sitting on the tarmac of Montgomery Aviation, located at the Montgomery Regional Airport, are a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-24 Liberator and a P-51 Mustang. The Collings Foundation out of Stow, Massachusetts, is a nonprofit educational group that conducts the tour.
The collection’s B-24, a four-engine bomber, is a rare bird indeed. The B-24 was the most produced four-engine aircraft in the American war effort, with 18,400 of the type coming off the assembly lines, according to the Aviation History Museum Online. This plane is the last flying Liberator in the world, said Jamie Mitchell, flight coordinator for the tour.
“We started out just as a way to reconnect veterans with the aircraft that they flew,” Mitchell said. “And then we became a flying memorial for family members to honor their loved ones that served on these same aircraft. And now it’s about giving the past a future by getting the kids out here.
“We want to bridge the gap from the next generation to the Greatest Generation. These kids just think that the war is a video game or a movie. We are losing our veterans every day. And many of these kids no longer have a direct link to this history.”
The aircraft will be open to tours through Wednesday at noon. The cost is $12 for adults and $6 for children 12 and under. For a fee, you can go up in one of the historic aircraft. Riding in the B-17 or B-24 is $450 for a half hour flight. The Mustang flight will set you back $2,200 for a half hour and $3,200 for an hour.
Taylor Wells, of Selma, was one of the first in line to take a tour, just after the aircraft landed about noon on Monday. He had an appointment in Montgomery, but it would wait.
“I saw that B-17 on final approach as I was driving down (Highway) 80,” said Wells, 47, a businessman who has always had an interest in World War II aircraft. “By the time I got turned around and headed back to the airport, I saw the B-24 coming in. Man, this is my lucky day!”
The Flying Fortress is the image that comes to mind when most people think of an American bomber in WWII. There were 12,725 produced, according to aviation history website. There are about a dozen of the aircraft left in flyable condition in the country, Mitchell said.
The Mustang has higher numbers, about 173 left in flying condition in the country, according to Mustangs.com. There were 14,819 made as part of the war effort, the aviation history website reads.
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: Wings of Freedom Tour
WHERE: Montgomery Aviation, located at the Montgomery Regional Airport
WHEN: Monday from noon to 4:30 p.m.; Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon
ADMISSION: Tours of the aircraft are $12 for adults and $6 for children 12 and under. Flights in the bombers are $450 for a half hour trip. Flights in the P-51 Mustang are $2,200 for a half hour and $3,200 for an hour.