Aviation history was on display in Marana over the weekend as a number of vintage World War II aircraft came to the Marana Regional Airport as part of the Wings of Freedom Tour.
The Collings Foundation and the Southern Arizona Military Vehicle Collectors Club brought the four vintage, restored aircraft to Marana to honor WWII veterans as well as educate younger generations through living history. On display were a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Consolidated B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell and North American P-51 Mustang.
“Touring through and flying in these amazing WWII bombers and fighter aircraft is a memorable living-history experience,” said Hunter Chaney of the Collings Foundation. “Even more so when you have the chance to talk with a local WWII veteran in such a unique setting.”
The Wings of Freedom Tour was designed as a flying tribute to the flight crews and ground crews who aided the Allied war effort, as well as the workers who built the planes; the soldiers, sailors and airmen they helped protect; and the citizens and families that share the freedom that they helped preserve.
The Arizona Ground Crew made the trip down from Phoenix to put on their World War II ground crew display.
The event fits perfectly in what the Southern Arizona Military Vehicle Collectors Club tries to accomplish.
“We are an organization of collectors of living history that include veterans as well as non-military members and families,” said Mark Lindemann of the Southern Arizona Military Vehicle Collectors Club.
The club preserves and restores historic military vehicles and then exhibits those vehicles. Their hope is to not only educate people on past military conflicts, but honor the veterans who served in those conflicts as well as instill respect for military history in younger generations.
The B-17, B-25 and B-24 bombers were the backbone of the American effort during the war and were famous for their ability to sustain damage and still accomplish the mission.
“Despite the risks of anti-aircraft fire, attacking enemy fighters, and the harrowing environment of sub-zero temperatures, many B-17s and B-24s safely brought their crews home,” said Chaney.
The B-24 is believed to be the world’s only fully restored and flying consolidated B-24J Liberator. The Collings foundation originally purchased the plane to use as a static display, but was convinced by B-24 crews to return it to the skies.
“This made it about five times greater a project,” said Bob Collings, co-founder of the Collings Foundation. “We were convinced by the argument that only about 3,000 people a year would see a static display, but 3 million might see it on a nationwide tour.”
It took more than five years and 97,000 man hours to return the plane to the sky.
The B-17, also known as the “Flying Fortress,” was used as a fire bomber that dropped water and borate on forest fires after the war, but was finally purchased by the foundation and returned to her original wartime configuration. Their B-17 is one of only eight in flying condition in the United States.
The P-51 Mustang was a fighter plane known as the “little friend” of the bombers as they escorted the larger aircraft and help protect them from attacking fighters.
Not many of these planes are left. Most were salvaged after the war for their raw aluminum and other metal parts that could be used in the manufacturing boom of post-war America.
In 26 years, the tour has made more than 2,900 visits to airports across the United States and Alaska. While the exact number of visitors is difficult to gauge, it is estimated that between 3.5 and 4 million people see these war birds annually.
In addition to seeing the planes, the foundation hopes visitors will engage the veterans who come out in conversation to learn more about their experiences to keep the oral history alive and learn more about the nation’s heritage.