Chicago Executive Airport will have three very special aircraft on hand this coming weekend for the annual Wings of Freedom Tour. The tour zigzags across the country making more than 100 stops each year while covering more than 25,000 miles. The event at Chicago Executive Airport starts Friday, July 27, and ends on Monday, July 30.
The three planes include two four-engine, heavy bombers – a B-17G Flying Fortress and a B-24J Liberator – as well as a P-51C Mustang. All three models saw action in virtually every theater of the war and played significant roles in the defeat of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan.
Hunter Chaney, the director of marketing for The Collings Foundation, which is based in Stow, MA, said the tour is a great way to remind people of the sacrifices made by so many during the war.
“Eighty-eight-thousand Americans lost their lives in the air war fighting to preserve liberty,” Chaney said. “The sacrifices these young Americans made need to be remembered. Without the sacrifices they made, this would be an entirely different world.”
Chaney said that most of the air crews flying in the planes, including pilots, co-pilots, bombardiers, navigators and gunners, were between 18- and 20-years old at the time. They flew at heights averaging about 25,000 feet where the air was so cold – as low as 50-degrees below zero Fahrenheit – that if they lost a glove they risked immediate frostbite.
Chaney shared, not only the history of the types of aircraft in the tour, but also the history of The Collings Foundation’s particular aircraft.
B-17G Flying Fortress (one of seven still flying in the United States)
- Length – 74 feet, 4 inches
- Wingspan – 103 feet, 10 inches
- Maximum speed – 300 mph
- Range – 1,850 miles
- Crew – 10
- Armament – 13 M2 .50 caliber Browning machine guns
- Bomb load – 6,000 pounds
Boeing built numerous models of the B-17 but the G model was the most numerous with 8,680 built. The first variant, the Model 299, flew in 1935. The B-17 flew in the Pacific, Southeast Asia, North Africa, Italy and the Mediterranean and other warzones. It, however, is probably best remembered for its role as part of the 8th Air Force stationed in England where it helped to carry the air war to Germany in daylight bombing. In the ETO, European Theater of Operations, 4,754 B-17s of all types were lost during the war.
The Collings Foundation’s B-17 spent the war closer to home serving as part of a stateside air and sea rescue squadron. In that capacity, it carried a dingy below the fuselage, which it would drop to stranded sailors and merchant marines in the waters off the coast of America.
B-24J Liberator (only restored, flying B-24 left in the world)
- Length – 64 feet, 2 inches
- Wingspan – 110 feet
- Maximum speed – 300 mph
- Range – 1,700 miles
- Crew – 10
- Armament – 10 M2 .50 caliber Browning machine guns
- Bomb load – 8,000 pounds
Though not as pretty as its cousin, the B-17, the B-24 was a workhorse in the war, also flying in virtually every theater of operations. The B-24 was also a primary weapon of the 8th Air Force. However, one of its most famous and difficult operations was in bombing the German held oil fields at Ploesti, Rumania on Aug. 1, 1943, as part of the 15th Air Force. The damage to the oil fields at Ploesti helped to restrict the Nazi’s access to oil used for aviation, tanks and other vehicles.
The B-24, as with the B-17, also saw extensive action in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. The B-24J flown by The Collings Foundation spent the war in the CBI (China-Burma-India) Theater, later designated the IBT (India-Burma) Theater. However, this B-24J was not part of the US Air Force. Rather, it was flown by the Royal Air Force.
“After WWII, when the war ended, like the fate of a lot of warbirds at the time, the RAF said, ‘All right chaps, let’s go home’ and left the planes right there.”
The Collings Foundation’s B-24J then became part of the newly formed Indian Air Force and flew in that capacity for about 25 years. A British collector purchased the plane and brought it back to England before The Collings Foundation acquired it.
“The thought was that we would just have it for static display,” Chaney said. “But, over the course of 97,000 hours of restoration, we got the plane to fly again.”
P-51C Mustang (razorback)
- Length – 32 feet, 4 inches
- Wingspan – 37 feet
- Maximum speed – 439 mph
- Range – 1,900 miles (with drop tanks)
- Crew – 1
- Armament – 4 M2 .50 caliber Browning machine guns
- Bomb load – 2 x 1,000 pounds
The P-51 was a game changer in the war. It’s said that, when Hermann Goering, commander of the Luftwaffe, saw a P-51 over Berlin, he knew the war was lost. The P-51, a pursuit/fighter plane, was able to escort the B-17s and B-24s all the way from England to Berlin. However, the P-51 also saw action around the globe.
Originally designed with a 1,200-horsepower Allison engine, the plane came into its own when the Allison was replaced by a 1,380-horsepower Rolls-Royce Packard engine.
The Collings Foundation’s P-51C had a very short combat history.
“It was ground looped and retired on its first mission,” Chaney said. “It was brought stateside and sat in mothballs for years.”
This particular P-51 is unique in that it is the only P-51C in the world with a dual cockpit. The dual cockpit was an extensive modification by The Collings Foundation, which allows an expert flight instructor to bring novice pilots up in the air and then safely turn over control of the plane.
“It’s literally considered pilot training,” Chaney said.
Opportunities to go up in the B-17 and the B-24 are available during the tour stop at Chicago Executive Airport. Half an hour is $425 per person. Flight training in the P-51 is also available. However, half an hour in the fighter is $2,200 and a full hour is $3,200.
Though the price of flying in the warbirds is expensive, Chaney said it’s basically a break-even proposition considering the cost of flying and maintaining the planes. He said the cost of a flight is actually a tax-deductible contribution to The Collings Foundation.
Flight experiences take place before and after tours. Call 978-562-9182 for flight reservations.
The planes will be on hand at Chicago Executive Airport over the course of the weekend at the times listed below and are accessible on the east side of the airport off of Milwaukee Avenue:
- Friday, July 27, from 2 to 5 p.m.
- Saturday, July 28, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Sunday, July 29, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Monday, July 30, from 10 a.m. to noon