Three World War II-era planes will be in Grand Island next week, and the public will have the chance to get an up-close look at history.
The Collings Foundation's Wings of Freedom Tour will bring a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber, a Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber and a P-51 Mustang fighter to the Central Nebraska Regional Airport.
Hunter Chaney, director of marketing for the Collings Foundation, said the foundation's goal is to inspire a younger generation to learn more about history, especially the World War II years.
“This is kind of a true living history tour — an interaction in history,” he said. “We want to engage people into this time in history to better understand it and as a motivation to want to learn more.”
He said they always invite World War II veterans not only to tour the planes, but also to tell other visitors about their experiences in the war.
“This is not an air show,” Chaney said, adding that the hands-on aspect is an especially good way for children to learn about the war. “It is really an interactive flying memorial of this history.”
The foundation's 1944 vintage Consolidated B-24J Liberator is painted as Witchcraft, in honor of an 8th Air Force bomber that flew a record 130 missions over Europe as part of the 467th Bomber Group. The Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress flies as Nine-O-Nine, in honor of an 8th Air Force, 91st Bomber Group heavy bomber. The B-17 was the companion of the B-24 in thousands of wartime bombing and reconnaissance missions. Together, they were the backbone of the daylight strategic bombing campaign of World War II.
The foundation's P-51C was named Betty Jane to honor Col. Charles M. McCorkle, a P-51 pilot who was an ace fighter pilot and commander with 11 confirmed kills under his belt — six of them in a P-51 Mustang named Betty Jane.
Betty Jane has joined the tour as a representative of the “little friends,” as pilots called them, that engaged the German fighters as the huge bomber formations flew toward enemy targets, saving countless bomber crew lives.
Visitors may explore the aircraft inside and out at a cost of $12 for adults and $6 for children 12 and younger. There is no cost for World War II veterans to tour the planes.
A 30-minute flight in the B-17 or B-24 costs $425, of which $350 is a tax-deductible donation to the foundation.
The P-51 Mustang is a dual-control fighter aircraft, and for $2,200 for a half hour or $3,200 for a full hour, a visitor can actually “get some stick time” flying the rare plane, Chaney said. Reservations can be made for flights at 800-568-8924. No reservations are needed for ground tours.
“This is such a unique and rare opportunity to see these planes,” Chaney said, adding that they have been restored to their original flying condition.
The foundation has been making the Wings of Freedom Tour across the United States for the past 24 years, but this is its first stop in Grand Island. They usually stop in more than 100 cities each year. Chaney said Grand Island was a logical stop between stops in Fort Collins, Colo., and Sioux Falls, S.D.