Valdosta Daily Times

November 7, 2013

Wings of Freedom Tour

Desiree Murphy
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Flying in from Albany, three WWII era planes landed at the Valdosta Regional Airport on Wednesday afternoon. The planes are part of the Collings Foundation's Wings of Freedom Tour. The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, and P-51 Mustang will be at the airport until Friday. The B-17 is only one of eight in flying condition in the United States while the other planes are the only ones of their kind still flying today.

All painted in traditional bomber style, each plane as its own unique name and markings. The sides of the B-17 “Nine O Nine” and P-51 “Betty Jane” have swastikas representing enemy aircraft taken down by the respective plane. The B-24 “Witchcraft” features names of honor crew and distinguished flying command lining its sides in honor of these deserving veterans.

Traveling to 110 cities annually, the Wings of Freedom Tour sets out to teach younger generations about these historic aircrafts and to honor the sacrifices made by veterans that allow us to enjoy our freedoms today. Since many of these aircraft were scrapped for aluminum after WWII, the Collings Foundation felt it to be of the utmost importance to share these rare airplanes with the nation.

Arthur Erickson, a WWII veteran currently living in Albany, served with the Eighth Air Force stationed in Norwich, England from 1943-1944. A B-24 copilot, Erickson was given the opportunity by Wings of Freedom to fly with his son, Dick, from Albany to Valdosta aboard the B-24 aircraft “Witchcraft.” He wanted his son to be able to see just what he went through during his time of service. Standing near the craft on the airstrip, Erickson says he has many great memories from his times aboard a B-24. “They are very sturdy planes and took a lot of damage,” says Erickson. “They always got us back in one piece.”

Erickson's son, Dick, was informed by his father the night before of the historic flight they would be taking together. Flying in the craft allowed Dick to experience the tight quarters his father and other men like him were stuck in during wartime.

“It's a whole new perspective on what he did for this country,” says Dick. “It was pretty awesome.”

A 10-year veteran of the Wings of Freedom Tour, Jim Harley pilots the P-51 Mustang Fighter. This full dual control model is the only one of its kind in the world and allows guests to operate the plane while under the guidance of Harley.

“We are trying to keep these memories alive,” says Harley. Honoring veterans and allowing to be a part of this living piece of history makes Harley's job worthwhile.

The Wings of Freedom Tour will be at the Valdosta Flying Service, located at 2626 Madison Highway, until they depart at noon on Nov. 8. Hours of ground tours and display are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 7 and 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Nov. 8. Admission is $12 for adults and $6 for children under 12 years old for access to up-close viewing and tours through the inside of the aircraft. WWII veterans can tour through the aircrafts at no cost. Flights on the B-17 or B-24 are $425 per person for a 30 minute flight. P-51 flights are $2,200 for 30 minutes and $3,200 for a full hour.