|A group of vintage World War II
flying aircraft was appearing at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at
Dallas Love Field on March 15 through March 21, 2007. This was called
the Wings of Freedom Tour 2007 and it was sponsored by the Collings
Foundation. Included in this group of aircraft were a B-17 Flying
Fortress, a B-24 Liberator, and a B-25 Mitchell.
I learned about this show
from a radio advertisement as I was driving to work on Thursday
morning. I got excited when I learned that it was possible to
take a flight on these historic aircraft during the show. I had
Mary call the show organizers to check on flight availability.
The first and foremost
aircraft that I wanted to fly on was the B-17. After that I
thought it would be neat to fly on the B-25 since that was the aircraft
that the Doolittle Raiders flew off the aircraft carrier Hornet.
The B-24 I didn't know quite as much about. Mary was able to get
flights scheduled for Sunday morning for me on both the B-17 and the
B-25. After I thought about it a little more, I realized that I
really wanted to fly on the B-24 also.
By flying all three
aircraft in one morning I would be able to make a comparison of the
flying experiences between the three. Later that afternoon Mary
called back and got me a flight slot for the B-24. The only
problem with the B-24 was that it was currently down for repairs.
If the repairs could be completed by Sunday morning then I could also
The start to
Sunday morning began with a certain amount of
stress. My grandson, four year old Wayland, seems to have been having
difficulty adjusting to
new baby sister. He woke up wanting his mommy and there wasn't
that could be done to appease him.
the situation, but it put a cloud over my mood. We were
on a tight schedule and his tantrum and refusal to put his clothes on
helping my anxiety level. Finally after much debate he put his
shirt and shorts on
but no shoes.
got in the car and exited the garage. There were was something
else to cloud my mood. This other thing to cloud my mood was real
clouds. There was
cloud ceiling and I was convinced that the flights would be
scrubbed. I had been so looking forward to flying on these
historic planes, I felt crushed.
on and got down to Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love
Field. Mary went inside to check if the flights were still
stayed in the car to supervise the kids. I finally was able to
shoes on. He began to return to his old self. Mary returned and
announced that the flights were still
going. Maybe the day would not be a bust after all.
We found the
table where I was supposed to check in for my
flights. There were about ten people already standing in
flight required you to sign an Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA)
waiver. With this waiver you
acknowledged that these were considered experimental aircraft and
carried with them the associated risks.
I must say
that I was somewhat nervous about flying on an airplane
that was built in 1944. I know that they do hundreds of air shows
year, but it still made me wonder about these old aircraft. Which
flight would be their
last. The B-24 aircraft was even a
little more worrisome. During the previous two days it had been down
repairs. I hoped that the mechanics who worked on the aircraft where
more proficient than some of the Neanderthals that I've had service my
automobiles in the past.
I got to the
front of the line and handed the man my three waiver
forms for the three aircraft. He seemed pretty surprised. I
guess they don't
often get customers who sign up for all three aircraft. He
that my name was on the reservation list for all three flights. I
him that I wanted to fly on all three aircraft, so that I could make a
comparison of the three flight experiences.
I was to be
on the first flight of the B-24, the second flight of
the B-25, and the third flight of the B-17. He gave me stickers to
that indicated to the people on the flight line which flights I was
supposed to be on. With the three stickers, I felt like an around the
world piece of luggage and told that to Mary.
The man who
checked me in laughed at my comment about the
luggage. He told me that I should head over to the B-24 first and
they would make sure that I got on all of my flights. Each flight
scheduled to be 30 minutes and each was targeted at roughly one hour
sure how cold it would be on the flights so I wore my Nebraska
Cornhusker windproof pullover. If it was windy on the flights, I
assumed that pullover would be my best bet. Another man with the
Collings Foundation came over and joked about me wearing Nebraska
clothing in enemy territory. I told him that territory was what
it. He turned out to also be from Nebraska and that is why he came
over to talk with me.
outside to stand by the fence near the entrance to the
aircraft. Volunteers manned the gate to ensure that only properly
accredited personal could access the flight line. Before too long,
called for the first flight group for the B-24. Most of my fellow
fliers expressed surprise and envy at my intent to fly all three
aircraft. I think there were about nine other passengers taking
flight with me.
was instructed to walk over to the aircraft and wait for
our pre-flight briefing. The flight engineer for the aircraft came
and started our briefing. The first thing he did was make sure was
understood that this was considered an experimental aircraft. We said
yes, but he still asked for us to nod our heads.
< style="font-family: arial;">He
us that we would have to be strapped in for take off and landing and
while taxiing. As soon as
the landing gear was up in flight, he would ring a
bell. That bell would signify that it was Okay for us get up and
around the aircraft. When the landing neared, he would ring the
twice as an indication that it was time to take our seats. He said
he maximizes the uptime for the passengers during the flight. That
meant that when he rang the bell twice we should get our butts back in
our seats and pronto, landing was
Then he said
something that scared the bejeebers out of me. The bomb
bay doors were designed to break away if a bomb was accidentally
dropped in the aircraft. The weight necessary to activate this
feature was a mere 100 pounds. If any of us passengers stepped on
bomb bay door, the door would collapse and we would plummet to the
earth. Falling out of the
of an airplane was not something that I had contemplated before and
it certainly was not something that I wanted to experience. He
told us that if we did
fall out of the airplane, that they would tear up our EAA waivers and
deny that we were ever on board the aircraft.
There was a
catwalk that ran the length of the bomb bay. This
catwalk was about on foot wide. We were highly encouraged to not
off of the catwalk. Another thing we had to avoid stepping on was
landing gear doors. They would also break away. At least those doors
freedom to roam the full range of the plane from nose to
tail. We could even look up in the cockpit and watch the pilots
the plane. We were told not to bother the pilots and not to
I was in the
first group of three passengers to board the plane. We
accessed the aircraft through the open bomb bay doors. We pulled
ourselves up on the catwalk and then maneuvered to the back of the
plane. The gentlemen in front of me told me that he was 86 years
old. He wasn't sure if he could make it over the obstacle course
we had to maneuver. He said that his knees were not in good
shape. He seemed to do Okay from what I could tell.
engineer pointed to our seating positions. Our seat belts
were directly on the floor. During takeoff and landing we would
our butts strapped right on the floor of the aircraft. No cushions
certainly no first class service.
We had a few
moments to look around the back of the plane. There was
a huge gaping opening on either side of the plane. These openings
put there for machine guns to defend the aircraft in flight. There
guns in place, but I'm certain that they had long ago been rendered
inoperable. I was surprised at just how big these openings
we were instructed to take our seats, it became apparent that the two
openings would remain open during our flight. The elderly man
complained about the openings. He thought it was going to be really
windy and noisy during the flight.
The three of
us who were to sit in this row on the floor started to take our
younger man asked “dad” if he wanted a
or aisle seat. I thought at first that he was joking about dad,
was his dad.
there were about six of his family members on this flight. This
was the first flight on a B-24 for this octogenarian in 60
last flew as a bombardier for the Flying Tigers in China. After
introduction I asked him how many missions he flew.
He said that
honestly he couldn't remember. He thought that it may
have been 47. Definitely it was less then 50. It even could
37, he just didn't know. He then said that with some veterans all
they talk about are their war stories. He said to those people he
“Get a life! You've got to move on.” I thought it was pretty
didn't seem to mind answering questions about his war experience, but
he certainly wasn't going to be one embellishing us with a lot of
He said that
the inside of this aircraft was a lot more cluttered
than what he remembers. He thought the B-24 that he flew in over
was much smoother inside. We started taxiing down the
seating felt like we were bobbing up and down. We were behind the
landing gear. The veteran said that he definitely remembered the
feeling of bounce from his days as a Flying Tiger.
We seemed to
taxi forever before we turned on the run way. The
engines were revved up to a maddening crescendo and then revved back
down. Apparently they
received orders from the tower to hold off on takeoff for other traffic
at the airport. It seemed like we waited for a long time.
Tiger veteran remarked that they never would have had the
engines running that long before takeoff. He said that the engines
a tendency to foul under those throttled down conditions. That was
comforting thought! I assumed or at least I hoped that perhaps
technology had gotten a little better in the 60 years.
engines were taken to full throttle. I was amazed at
the racket that they made. The only sounds that I can compare it
the combine on my parent's farm. Picking corn with the combine
a lot like this airplane straining for takeoff. The din of chains and
blowers shaking and rattling on the combine is a good approximation of
what it sounded like on this B-24. In fact if I closed my eyes, I
not be able to tell if I was on an airplane or a combine. Both of
pieces of machinery sound for all the world that they are going to
shake themselves apart in a billion pieces.
were released and we bounded down the runway. Actually
the roll seemed to be smoother than the taxi. As we ran down the
I held my camera up to take photos out of the gaping machine gun
opening. I could not see the runway, but my camera could.
We were up in the air.
long and the bell rang that indicated that we were cleared to
move about the airplane. I almost couldn't believe that this
the one for us to release our belts. It seemed like it occurred way too
soon. We had not even cleared the edge of the airport! My row mates
started to release their seat belts so I
suit. I stood up and marveled at the view.
Here I was
flying in an aircraft and standing next to a huge gaping hole in its
side! All that was between me and air whistling by the
aircraft was a three foot high piece of aircraft structure. Who
would have thought you could experience that on an airplane.
I will say
thing for this view it is not something that people
susceptible to acrophobia. If you have a fear of heights you don't want
this experience. Fortunately for me I have no such fear. I had
no discomforting feelings when looking out a the city skyline or down
at the houses below. However I am sure that if my wife Mary had
flight that she would have passed right out. We would have had to
strap her limp body to the floor. Then I would have had to hope
that my fellow
passengers would avoid stepping on my unconscious wife.
I could have
stayed looking out from this vantage point for the
whole flight. It was so unique. Flight time was a meager 30
minutes though. I wanted to explore the entire aircraft so I
on into other locations. I headed back to
very end of the tail. There was a gun turret there the seemed to
a unique perspective. To get to this section I had to cross a
the floor. This hatch was open when we boarded the plane. In
of the hatch was a window about 6 inches across. It looked
down to the earth below.
I must admit
that I had some apprehension crossing the hatch. Our
briefing said nothing about it being a weak spot on the
it was wide open when we got on board! Not wanting to take any
a strap on the side of the plane before I crossed the hatch. I
photo looking down through the window of the ground below.
from the rear turret was not as spectacular as I had
imagined it would be. Maybe if you crawled all the way up inside
you would see more. With a camera in hand though, that was
impractical. I reversed my course and headed towards the front of
aircraft. I had to wait a little while for passenger traffic to
clear in order to navigate around the ball
turret in the belly. That ball turret was closed and we were not
allowed in there. Probably none of us would have fit in that tiny
I waited for
another man to come down the catwalk in the bomb
bay. It was really windy at this location. I noticed that the
for my B-17 flight was gone. It apparently had been blown away by
wind. The missing sticker which was my ticket for the B-17 flight
caused me concern but there was no time to
worry about it. There
still a lot more of the B-24 aircraft to explore and a limited
time to do it.
The man at
the end of the catwalk finally motioned for me to come
forward. He had given up his attempt to move rearward. The
between the girders on the catwalk was not much more than a foot
across. This man was rather large. He was originally seated
forward of the bomb bay
and he found that he could not fit through the catwalk to get to the
the aircraft. He lamented that he wished he had taken this flight
few pounds ago. A few pounds might not have been the correct amount,
shedding many pounds would have served him better.
along the catwalk and found that the area around the
feared bomb bay doors was not that bad. There were ropes along
catwalk and with the supporting girders you would have to go out of
your way to mess up and crash through a bomb bay door. It wasn't
idiot proof, but it was close.
I got to the
front area in front of the bomb bay. I pulled myself up on a
platform. I was now directly behind the pilot and
co-pilot. It is a
strange feeling to have access to a cockpit in today's day and
noticed that our pilot was a young platinum blond woman. That was
interesting contrast from what my brain expected. Back in 1944, it
might have been more likely to have seen her adorning the nose of the
airplane as scantily clad art rather than flying it. She was doing
a great job
was apparent that she was a skilled pilot. I took a few photos and
waited for a fellow passenger to clear the tunnel that lead under the
cockpit and into the nose section.
pretty dark underneath the cockpit in this tunnel area. For
me to crawl through the tunnel was not the most comfortable thing to do
in the world. I had been having an issue with my knee for the
couple of weeks. I would get a fairly intense pain in it when I
hard surface. I acquired this malady during the installation of a
fan in the attic of my house.
I would not
let a little pain stop me though!. I had to see what the
forward area of the aircraft looked like. I crawled along the
tunnel although I winced whenever I tweaked my knee. I made it to
front. This was
not an area for those suffering from claustrophobia. I don't have
issue either, but I knew that anyone who has problems with confined
not have been comfortable.
now been over the entire aircraft. The best view turned out to
be my starting view. You could see a lot better from the uncovered
that accommodated the machine guns. I reversed my course and
back down the tunnel under the cockpit. It did not do great things
my knee, but I held up Okay. I proceeded back down the catwalk
the bomb bay. I reached the area of the ball turret and negotiated my
way back over the wing root and around the turret.
I was now
back at the area where I began the flight. The family of
the Flying Tiger veteran assembled for a group photo. The son
his gigantic Canon camera. It must have weighed a whopping ten pounds.
I learned later that he was a professional
snapped a couple of photos and he was pleased with the results. I
over to the gaping machine gun hole that was opposite from my takeoff
position. From that vantage point, I watched the rest of the
rang twice and everyone scrambled for their seats. I had it
pretty easy as my seat was the floor just below where I was
standing. I planned it that way. I
strapped in. Next to me was the son of the Flying Tiger
began talking about cameras and I learned that he was a professional
photographer for Southern Living magazine. His name was Art
that he thought that there would be an article in the Texas
portion of Southern Living covering the Wings of Freedom tour. Hi
expectation was that it would come out one year after our
flight. I look forward to seeing it.
As we were
talking about photography, there was a squeal from the tires. They
touched down on the runway and spun up to speed. The Flying Tiger
veteran was thoroughly impressed with the landing. He said it was
smoothest one that he had ever been on. He did say though, that as
a Flying Tiger
never landed on a concrete runway. I must agree with him, the
was exceptionally smooth. My hat was off to the platinum blond. Now
the aroma of burning rubber
seating area. That smell was generated from the tires as they
contacting the runway.
back to the flight line seemed to take a lot less time than
our taxi out to the runway. That makes sense I guess, because we landed
in the same direction that we took off. We exited the aircraft as
came in. We went back down through the open bomb bay.
I was surprised to find that the propellers on the aircraft was still
whirling. This was about as live of an action situation as you
could get. We were directed behind the aircraft and down the
flight line. I walked over to the fence.
there and seemed really tense. It was like the home coming when a
soldier from war first saw his wife. I think she was really
concerned about me flying in the B-24. To her credit she did
nothing to discourage me from taking on this risk. It was either
that or she was just stressed out with having to spend that time with
the rest of our family who had come out to witness my flight.
The adventure continues with my flight on
the B-17. For the account of this
day follow the B-17 Flight link.