An Up Close and Personal History Lesson

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Post by Jim

What a week of history for us! Tuesday, May 8th and Wednesday, May 9th, we visited Brackett Field Airport in La Verne and on Friday, May 11th, we visited Lyon Air Museum at John Wayne International Airport in Santa Ana to see the “2018 Wings of Freedom Tour” that is put on by the Collings Foundation.

The tour is a collection of 4 to 5 superbly maintained WWII fighter and bomber aircraft. We were able to walk around and explore the interiors of a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-24 Liberator, a B-25 Mitchell, a P-51 Mustang and an A-1E Skyraider (a 1955 vintage fighter). And on Friday we FLEW in the B-24 Liberator, which is the only one in the world still flying! We also toured the Lyon Air Museum, which has a fine collection of air worthy vintage WWII aircraft, historic motorcycles and cars. There are even a few WWII veterans that hang out at the museum who are more than happy to tell their stories.

The Collings Foundation flies the planes to Airports around the US for public viewing and we highly recommend that you see them if they are scheduled for an airport near you. 2018 Wings of Victory Tour Schedule

Fair warning: there’s a more video in this post than usual because the videos convey our experience better than still pictures.

We spent most of Tuesday exploring the planes. It was fascinating to walk around the outside and squeeze through the insides of these pieces of WWII history. For the more adventurous, flights on the historic airplane of your choice is available, for a price of course. Watching them fire up the engines and take off was amazing. The engines are loud and if you happen to be behind an airplane with it’s engine(s) running, it feels like you are in a hurricane.

The bombers are large on the outside but real tight to move around in on the inside. We could move through the interiors, but only one at a time in any direction and usually in a semi bent over position. I banged my head many times on interior superstructures.

20180508_105359_001It was obvious that to be in one of the bomber gun turrets, the gunner had to be a smaller stature person. None of my family could have gotten inside one of those! It also looked like a gunner could not get out of a gun turret while the aircraft was flying.

We could walk around the fighter planes, A-1E Skyraider and P-51 Mustang, but weren’t allowed to sit in the cockpits. There was most likely concern someone might accidentally push a button or flip a switch and start-up an engine. Compared to the bombers, these planes took off fast, especially the P-51!

We got a “hey you only live once” feeling after looking at the planes close up and watching people experiencing flights on them. We were so inspired that we decided to book a flight. So back we came on Wednesday and after some discussion about each plane with the lady doing the flight booking, we decided to fly on the B-24 Liberator. We booked our flight and were very excited about our Friday flight out of John Wayne Airport on a B-24! There were around 18,000 B-24’s manufactured and this is the only one still flying. This B-24 saw combat in the Pacific Theater ranging from anti-shipping to bombing and re-supply of resistance force operations. Click the link if you want to read a more complete history of this plane or any in the Collings Foundation Collection .

20180511_102304Friday finally arrived and we were ready to fly! We each wore sweatshirts, it could be cool up there, and we each had earplugs, it was going to be loud. Written instructions advised us to not bring backpacks or big camera’s since space inside of the plane is limited. With that in mind, we decided to use our cell phone cameras instead of a larger and very breakable digital camera.

Like most things that involve some risk, we had to fill out forms and sign waivers to let them off the hook if something bad happened. It was interesting to read the following on the form we signed: “The B-24 ‘Witchcraft’ holds an experimental air worthiness certificate and the F.A.A has authorized this flight under a grant of exemption the requirements of 91.315, 91.319 (a), 119.5 (g) and 119.21 (a).”

B-24 Waiver Form

Before the getting on the B-24, we were given a safety orientation. Two rules were stressed: 1. DO NOT touch anything red or yellow and 2. DO NOT grab any steel cables since they are part of the steering mechanism. We would be allowed to move around the plane after the landing gear was raised on take-off and we had to buckle up before the wheels came down for landing. An interesting caution that caught our attention was that the bomb bay doors were designed to open with 100 or more pounds of pressure. That’s probably in case a bomb came lose so the plane wouldn’t blow up. Since it appeared all passengers were over 100 pounds, we were advised to not fall or step on the bomb bay doors while in flight. The ramp used by passengers to cross the bomb bay was about 18 inches wide and we had to turn side-ways to wiggle through while holding onto ropes.

Jim squeezing through b-24 bomb bay
Jim squeezing through the B-24 bomb bay
Ready for take off

There are no passenger seats, as such, on a B-24. We either sat on the floor or raised areas of the interior on little, flat cushions. We buckled up with WWII era seatbelts that work a lot different from modern seatbelts. It sounds bad but it really wasn’t. The engines were loud so the earplugs were certainly a plus.

Take off was pretty smooth. The flight was windy and loud because there were openings on both sides of the plane for machine guns.

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Our flight took us over Orange County and up the coast to Long Beach. During the flight, we carefully moved around to different parts of the plane. After working our way through the bomb bay, my wife and I wiggled into the front gun bay and got to look through the bomb site. We also got to watch the pilots do their thing! Our daughter explored the rear gun bay.

It seemed to end way too fast. Here’s a video I sped up, a whole lot, of the landing. I held my phone over my head so I could video the landing from a window. Since I was seat belted to the floor, I couldn’t see what I was shooting, but it came out okay.

The rest of our day was spent touring the Lyon Air Museum. If you are in Orange County, near John Wayne Airport and have some time, this museum is worth a visit. Here’s a link to their website and a brief museum slide show:  Lyon Air Museum

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If the “Wings of Freedom” tour visits an airport near you, I highly recommend you go see it. This was a wonderful experience that gave us a new appreciation for the bravery of our WWII pilots and the sacrifices they made!

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