World War II Aircraft Soar in Local Skies during the Wings of Freedom Tour

A crowd gathers around the The B24J Liberator at the Wings of Freedom event at the Burlington International Airport last weekend. Photo Credit: Judy Kearns

Veterans, families, and history fans gather to see vintage aircraft at the airport for the first time in a decade. The Other Paper takes flight in a B-25 bomber.

Thomas McAuliff Jr. and his son, Thomas McAuliff III, stood by the B24J Liberator on display last weekend at Burlington International Airport.

A single name was marked on the plane: Lt. Col. Thomas G. McAuliff.

“He was in a bombing run in southern China by the Philippines,” McAuliff Jr. said of his father. “They had a problem; a bomb either caught in the bomb bay door, or the bombs dropping did something so the doors wouldn’t close. He knew he couldn’t get back to the Philippines because of drag. It was dark, and they crash-landed with 11 crew people, I think, and they all were able to get out uninjured.”

Nearby, Todd Woodward overheard McAuliff’s story and shared his own B-24J tale.

“My uncle was killed in one of these,” he said. His uncle was a mechanical engineer from the Plattsburgh area. “He was shot down over in Europe by two German subs. It was the only plane the entire squadron lost.”

The occasion was the Wings of Freedom tour, a collection of World War II aircraft that soared over Burlington Sept. 14-16. It’s a national flying memorial of World War II bomber and fighter planes. The tour, sponsored by the Collings Foundation, returned to Burlington for the first time in a decade, on its way to visiting 110 cities across the country.

Featured aircraft included three bombers — the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Nine O Nine,” Consolidated B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft,” and North American B-25 Mitchell “Tondelayo” — and a P-51 Mustang “Toulouse Nuts” fighter.

One of the newer additions to the Wings of Freedom tour is the P-51 Mustang dual control fighter, often referred to as the “Little Friend” of the bombers. The FP-51 Mustang was known for protecting bomber crews from attacks by Axis fighters. The P-51 Mustang also earned a grand champion award for restoration.

Accompanying these historic aircraft were an F4U Corsair fighter, a Supermarine Spitfire fighter, and modern-day Army National Guard helicopter and a National Guard F-16 fighter jet.

Planes with names

For South Burlington resident Tom Lozel, the event provided a connection to a father he never met.

“My father flew a B-17. He was shot down and killed in WWII. He was killed in February, and I was born in May.”

He has since been to Belgium, where his father was buried.

“They name all their planes,” he added. “The plane my father was on was named after my mother. They used to call it ‘Freckles.’”

Also at the event was Leo Maguire of Essex, who carried a large, framed 1944 photo of his brother Bill Maguire, who served in the war. He propped it up, beaming with pride. His brother served in the 353rd Special Operations Group stationed at Kadena Air Base in Japan.

“This is a P-47, the Boston Bull,” he said, pointing to the photo his brother’s in. “One of these B-24 Liberators that’s here, one of the crew took this picture and got it to my brother. These guys were guiding them home after a mission. It’s great to have memories.”

A hundred feet away, sitting next to the B-24J Liberator itself, 94-year old Anna Neville of Burlington agreed.

“It brings back quite a few memories,” she said with a chuckle. She is a WWII veteran who worked in the Navy hospital. She watched the runway intently where Corsair and Spitfire fighter aircraft and the B-25 Mitchell had recently taken off.

“My husband flew in the Royal Navy, and he flew Spitfires,” she explained. “When they were trying new planes, the Spitfire line, he was a test pilot for them in England.”

With her was her grandson, 14-year-old Ian Bright, known in his family as a history buff and avid learner. Bright was quick to share what sparked his interest in the aircraft and the era.

“My grandfather flew Spitfires in the war, so it’s a personal connection. My other grandfather was in WWII as well in Italy,” he said. “You read about these things, but to physically be inside the plane — it’s really special. Not something you get to do every day.”

For 79-year-old Joyce Tasetano, it was the memory of a lifetime. After her husband’s passing 11 years ago, Tasetano has set out to take advantage of what life has to offer, and that offer was in the form of a 30-minute flight aboard the B-25 Mitchell.

“I try to empower young women and say, ‘What’s keeping you from doing the next thing? Only yourself.’ So I said, ‘Hey, what about you, Joyce?’” she said. “Next to marrying my husband, this was the second most exciting thing in the world to me.”

About the Aircraft

The B-17 Flying Fortress “Nine O Nine,” a heavy bomber, was part of the 8th Air Force, 91st Bombardment Group. It is one of nine Flying Fortresses in flying condition in the United States.

The B24J Liberator “Witchcraft” is an 8th Air Force bomber that flew 130 missions over Europe as part of the 467th Bombardment Group. The B24J is the only one of its kind in the world still flying.

Together, the B-17 and B24J executed daylight strategic bombing runs during the war. The bombers were known for their resilience during the war, mainly from 1942 to 1945. Notwithstanding many obstacles, such as enemy fire and bone-chilling temperatures, the B-24 and B-17 bombers were responsible for bringing crews home.

The B-25 Mitchell Tondelayo bomber returned to the skies over 50 years after it served; it was part of the Doolittle raid on Japan in 1942 — a dramatic air attack on Tokyo and other places that demonstrated Japan was vulnerable.

The Other Paper had the opportunity to take flight in this 3,500-horsepower bomber.

Thaddeus Jones, a flight engineer, instructed the group, signaling when to buckle up and when it was safe to unbuckle, observe and even crawl on all fours through the tail tunnel toward the back of the plane. There, people could experience the perspective of a tail gunner surrounded by windows.

Fees for aircraft rides go into the foundation’s plane upkeep budget. Each 30-minute flight aboard the B-17 and B-24 were priced at $450 per person, B-25 flights were $400, and 30-minute flight training and hour flight training rang up at $2,200 and $3,200, respectively.

Many aircraft were scrapped for their raw aluminum in the postwar perior, which is why not many of them remain.

About the foundation

Ryan Keough, the Collings Foundation director of development, would love to make the Burlington visit an annual event.

“Every single person I’ve talked to out here has just been absolutely overjoyed to have us back,” he said. “It’s refreshing to see so many people into history, aviation and our armed forces here in Burlington. It’s great to see kids come out with parents and get excited about this.

“This is really passing on the next generation of pilots and people who are into WWII aviation and such; it’s a fantastic learning opportunity for everyone.

“I think this is going to be a yearly event here in Burlington. That’s our hope, at least!”

The Collings Foundation focuses much of its efforts these days on the Wings of Freedom tour, which draws audiences estimated at 3.5 million to 4 million per year, according to its website. Funding for the foundation comes from private donations as well as members of the public who view the exhibits nationwide.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent

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