The Wings of Freedom Tour made its way to Valparaiso in early August. This tour gives people a rare and unique glimpse into history by letting them get up close and even inside WWII aircraft. I got an amazing opportunity to go on a flight in one of the planes with two veterans who experienced WWII firsthand.
I arrived to the Porter County Regional Airport on a gorgeous August day and watched the magnificent machines make their entrance onto the runway.
“This tour showcases four of the most recognizable WWII aircraft,” Mike Prentiss, Valparaiso Stop Coordinator of the The Collings Foundation said. “We do this for our WWII veterans. We feel that the best way to honor them is to explore these aircraft firsthand. You may remember them from textbooks or television, but if you get to fly on one you will never forget it.”
The planes on the tour were:
Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress
Consolidated B-24J Liberator
North American B-25 Mitchell
North American TP-51C Mustang
The Collings Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing living history events across the country. The Wings of Freedom Tour is the largest of their events which began 26 years ago. It reaches about 110 cities and 35 states in a 10 month span.
I got to go sit right behind the cockpit in the B-24 with two WWII veterans, Herald Johnson and Chuck Jared. They both regaled me with stories about their deployments and pointed out the different instruments in the plane and their uses. Jared was part of the US Army Air Corps as a Corporal. Johnson was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, an active duty infantry division of the US Army that specializes in parachute assault operations. I was immediately intrigued by both men as my great-grandpa, Tom Casey, was also a paratrooper in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Division during WWII.
Our flight was surreal and exciting. Everywhere you looked there were knobs, buttons, valves, switches, and all sorts of things that caused many actions and reactions during the war. I could picture in my mind the young men moving to and fro in the aircraft in the 1940s, flipping switches and pulling levers quick as lightning, having memorized the layout and function of each piece of equipment on the Liberator. I could picture my grandpa, ready in his uniform, donning his parachute as he prepared to jump into Italy.
After the flight landed I asked them how they liked the flight.
“It was an honor to be on that aircraft,” Jared said. “I’ve never done it before and it was a thrill.”
“I flew on one of these during the war. It’s just like I remember it,” Johnson said, then joked, “I’ll jump again if anyone wants to go with me.”
After we landed the planes were opened up for the viewing pleasure of the public. Parents snapped pictures, kids excitedly climbed up inside the planes to get a better look, and men and women who saw these aircraft fly way back when stood back and let the memories fill their minds.
To get a looksee at the Wings of Freedom Tour, head to the Porter County Regional Airport August 3-5. Cost to look at the aircraft is $12 Adults and $6 Children 12 and under.
For those who want to fly like I did, you can!
30-minute flight on the B-17 or B-24 is $450 per person.
30-minute flight training on the P-51C is $2200.
60-minute flight training on the P-51C is $3200.
WWII veterans fly for free. Call 978-562-9182 for flight reservations. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a moving and monumental time in history.