The reverberations of history come to life this week at Lyon Air Museum, as the Collings Foundation and their incredible collection of rare and classic warbirds make their annual Wings of Freedom Tour visit. The foundation has been touring the country with their aircraft for 26 years, enabling millions of people to see these magnificent machines of victory up close in their full glory.
The foundation brought three historic aircraft to Lyon Air Museum this year – a B-17 Flying Fortress “Nine-O-Nine”, a B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft” and a P-51 Mustang “Betty Jane.” Each of these planes contributed heavily to Allied victory, and are widely considered some of the greatest aircraft to ever fly. Though tens of thousands of these aircraft were produced during the war effort, only a few hundred remain in airworthy condition today.
Museum guests are able to tour the inside of the bombers, gaining a newfound appreciation of the courage and commitment of the men who flew these warbirds into battle. Guests are also able to purchase rides aboard foundation aircraft, making many dreams of a lifetime come true. The chance to fly onboard the B-24 “Witchcraft” held particularly special meaning for one gentleman. His father had flown as a B-24 crewman in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. Growing up, his father seldom spoke of his service. After his father passed away several months ago, while going through his belongings he found the military records that detailed his father’s service as a B-24 Tail Gunner. The gentleman had never seen a B-24 up close before he laid his eyes upon “Witchcraft.” As he climbed aboard the aircraft for his flight he gently laid his hand on the side of the fuselage, tears streaming down his face. In his words, it was “one of the greatest experiences of my lifetime.”
Seven World War II Veterans were treated to a B-17 ride. Demetrius Harakas of Santa Ana, Calif. booked and arranged the very special experience. The group arrived at Lyon Air Museum via stretch limo. The veterans were all ear to ear smiles as they entered the museum and made their way to the aircraft. They all climbed inside and departed for a half hour flight along the coast. Happiness filled the atmosphere as the group landed and exited the aircraft.
Those on the ground are treated to witnessing the massive radial piston engines of the B-17 and B-24 bombers come to life, producing a sound like no other in the world; a symphonic cornucopia of ingenuity, dedication, freedom and victory. The P-51 “Betty Jane” is powered by the legendary Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 engine, with a sound so smooth and elegant, yet so powerful the aircraft is often referred to as “the Cadillac of the skies.” Guests who fly in this unique two-seat P-51 trainer get to feel what it was like to fly this celebrated fighter that sent fear through enemy pilots who encountered it in battle.
In addition to touring the aircraft on the ground and purchasing rides, guests also have the opportunity to talk with Collings Foundation crewmembers, the dedicated men and women who bear the awesome responsibility of keeping these treasures of classic aviation airworthy and safe. Foundation pilots are available to answer questions about the aircraft; from simple queries of how fast a particular aircraft can fly to more advanced questions such as specific flight characteristics.
The Collings Foundation will be at Lyon Air Museum though Sunday, May 10. Don’t miss this opportunity to see these magnificent airplanes, and support a cause dedicated to honoring the service and sacrifices of those brave Americans who selflessly answered the call of freedom and liberty.