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B-24 Flight
B-17 Flight
B-25 Flight
STS-117

Wings Of Freedom

On a B-24 mission with a Flying Tiger

Photo Credits: Mine, Mary, and Lexie
B-24 Liberator Witchcraft
The B-24 Liberator awaits it's first flight of the day
Me with my flight credentials
Our pre-flight briefing for the B-24
Me with my three flight stickers
We receive a pre-flight briefing on the B-24
A veteran of the Flying Tigers receives his first pre-flight briefing in 60 years
A veteran of the Flying Tigers receives his first pre-flight briefing in sixty years!
The machine gun emplacment on the aircraft's port side
The port side machine gun emplacement silhouetted against the cloud covered sky
Me with my butt strapped to the floor of the B-24
The open hatch to the rear of the aircraft
Strapped in with my butt on the floor of the B-24
The open hatch in the middle of the floor
The view from my seat on the floor
The floor hatch is now closed
The view from my vantage point on the floor
The floor hatch has now been closed
A view of the runway at takeoff
I held the camera up over my head for this shot of the runway at the moment of takeoff
Witchcraft, the B-24 Liberator takes flight
Witchcraft, the B-24 Liberator takes flight
Witchcraft in flight
The B-24 flies overhead
Heading off on its mission
Heading off on its mission
Standing up next to the gaping hole for the machine gun emplacement
Standing up now right next to the gaping hole for the starboard machine gun emplacement
Passengers start to move about the cabin
Passengers start to move about the cabin
A view of the Dallas skyline under the B-24 wing
A view of the Dallas skyline under the wing of the B-24
A view out of the gun turret in the tail
Looking down from the tail gun turret
The view from the tail gun turret
Looking down from the tail gun turret
Looking straight down through the window in the floor hatch
Looking straight down through the window in the floor hatch
Looking down at neighborhood homes
Looking down at neighborhood homes
The pilot and co-pilot of our B-24
The pilot and co-pilot of our B-24 in flight
A view of the front landing gear directly below the cockpit
Looking at the front landing gear directly below the cockpit (note the man kneeling in the tunnel)
The bomb site in the nose of the aircraft
The bomb site in the nose of the B-24
A view out of the overhead turret of the B-24
Looking out of the overhead turret of the B-24
Looking back at the port engines as we fly over an area lake
Looking back at the port engines as we fly over an area lake
A view of the ball turret in the belly of the aircraft
A view of the ball turret in the belly of the B-24
A view from the port machine gun emplacement
A view from the port machine gun emplacement
Our Flying Tiger veteran flying on perhaps his last B-24 mission
Our Flying Tiger veteran flying on perhaps his last B-24 mission
A happy veteran walks away from a successful mission
A happy veteran walks away from a successful B-24 mission on Witchcraft
Me standing by the nose of B-24 Witchcraft
I'm standing by the nose of the Collings Foundation B-24 named Witchcraft
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 fly it.

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 his new baby sister. He woke up wanting his mommy and there wasn't much that could be done to appease him. 

I understood 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 was not helping my anxiety level. Finally after much debate he put his shirt and shorts on but no shoes.

We 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 a low 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.

We pressed on and got down to Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field. Mary went inside to check if the flights were still going. I stayed in the car to supervise the kids.  I finally was able to get Wayland’s 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 line. Each 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 per 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 for 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 confirmed that my name was on the reservation list for all three flights. I told 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 wear 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 that they would make sure that I got on all of my flights. Each flight was scheduled to be 30 minutes and each was targeted at roughly one hour apart.

I wasn't 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 you made of it. He turned out to also be from Nebraska and that is why he came over to talk with me.

We headed 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, they 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 this flight with me.

Our group was instructed to walk over to the aircraft and wait for our pre-flight briefing. The flight engineer for the aircraft came over and started our briefing. The first thing he did was make sure was that we all 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 told 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 move around the aircraft. When the landing neared, he would ring the bell twice as an indication that it was time to take our seats. He said that 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 imminent.

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 break away feature was a mere 100 pounds. If any of us passengers stepped on a bomb bay door, the door would collapse and we would plummet to the earth. Falling out of the belly 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 step off of the catwalk. Another thing we had to avoid stepping on was the landing gear doors. They would also break away. At least those doors were painted red.

We had 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 flying the plane. We were told not to bother the pilots and not to distract them.

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 that we had to maneuver.  He said that his knees were not in good shape. He seemed to do Okay from what I could tell.

The flight engineer pointed to our seating positions. Our seat belts were directly on the floor. During takeoff and landing we would have our butts strapped right on the floor of the aircraft. No cushions and 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 were put there for machine guns to defend the aircraft in flight. There were guns in place, but I'm certain that they had long ago been rendered inoperable. I was surprised at just how big these openings were. When 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 seats. The younger man asked “dad” if he wanted a center or aisle seat. I thought at first that he was joking about dad, but this really was his dad.

In fact 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 years. He last flew as a bombardier for the Flying Tigers in China. After our 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 have been 37, he just didn't know. He then said that with some veterans all that they talk about are their war stories. He said to those people he says, “Get a life! You've got to move on.” I thought it was pretty funny. He 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 stories.

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 China was much smoother inside. We started taxiing down the runway. Our floor seating felt like we were bobbing up and down. We were behind the main 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.

The Flying Tiger veteran remarked that they never would have had the engines running that long before takeoff. He said that the engines had a tendency to foul under those throttled down conditions. That was a comforting thought!  I assumed or at least I hoped that perhaps engine technology had gotten a little better in the 60 years.

Suddenly the engines were taken to full throttle. I was amazed at the racket that they made. The only sounds that I can compare it to was the combine on my parent's farm. Picking corn with the combine sounded 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 might not be able to tell if I was on an airplane or a combine. Both of these pieces of machinery sound for all the world that they are going to shake themselves apart in a billion pieces.

The brakes were released and we bounded down the runway. Actually the roll seemed to be smoother than the taxi. As we ran down the runway 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.

It wasn't long and the bell rang that indicated that we were cleared to move about the airplane. I almost couldn't believe that this signal was 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 followed 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 one 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 been on this 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 pressed on into other locations. I headed back to the very end of the tail. There was a gun turret there the seemed to offer a unique perspective. To get to this section I had to cross a hatch in the floor. This hatch was open when we boarded the plane. In the center of the hatch was a window about 6 inches across. It looked straight 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 aircraft. Still it was wide open when we got on board! Not wanting to take any chances I grabbed a strap on the side of the plane before I crossed the hatch. I took a photo looking down through the window of the ground below.

The view from the rear turret was not as spectacular as I had imagined it would be. Maybe if you crawled all the way up inside there you would see more. With a camera in hand though, that was impractical. I reversed my course and headed towards the front of the 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 space anyway.

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 sticker for my B-17 flight was gone. It apparently had been blown away by the 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 was 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 space 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 back of the aircraft. He lamented that he wished he had taken this flight a few pounds ago. A few pounds might not have been the correct amount, shedding many pounds would have served him better.

I walked along the catwalk and found that the area around the feared bomb bay doors was not that bad. There were ropes along the 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 age. I noticed that our pilot was a young platinum blond woman. That was an 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 and it 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.

It was 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 last couple of weeks. I would get a fairly intense pain in it when I knelt on a hard surface. I acquired this malady during the installation of a bathroom vent 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 the front. This was not an area for those suffering from claustrophobia. I don't have that issue either, but I knew that anyone who has problems with confined spaces would not have been comfortable.

I had 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 gaping holes that accommodated the machine guns. I reversed my course and crawled back down the tunnel under the cockpit. It did not do great things for my knee, but I held up Okay. I proceeded back down the catwalk through 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 handed me his gigantic Canon camera. It must have weighed a whopping ten pounds. I learned later that he was a professional photographer. I snapped a couple of photos and he was pleased with the results. I moved over to the gaping machine gun hole that was opposite from my takeoff position. From that vantage point, I watched the rest of the flight.

The bell 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 veteran. We began talking about cameras and I learned that he was a professional photographer for Southern Living magazine. His name was Art Meripol.

Art said 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 had touched down on the runway and spun up to speed. The Flying Tiger veteran was thoroughly impressed with the landing. He said it was the smoothest one that he had ever been on. He did say though, that as a Flying Tiger they never landed on a concrete runway. I must agree with him, the landing was exceptionally smooth. My hat was off to the platinum blond. Now the aroma of burning rubber permeated our seating area. That smell was generated from the tires as they screeched from contacting the runway.

Out taxi 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 we 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.

Mary was 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.

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UPDATED : March 22, 2007
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