Friday, October 18, 2013

WWII bombers in Greenville

This afternoon three historic planes landed at the downtown Greenville airport as part of the Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom tour. The Consolidated B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft” WWII Heavy Bomber, the P-51 Mustang Fighter “Betty Jane” and a vintage Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress ”Nine O Nine" will be on display until Sunday. As many aircraft were scrapped for aluminum after the war, it is rare to see planes of their type, much less planes still flight-worthy; we were privileged to see such notorious aircraft up close right here in Greenville.

The P-51 Mustang Fighter behind Lauris and his friend
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engine heavy bomber, and is infamous for dropping more bombs than any other US aircraft during WWII. High-flying and long-range, the bomber was employed in daylight precision bombing against German industrial and military targets, and later Japanese shipping and airfields. It gained fame as an aircraft that could sustain significant damage yet still return home, and supposedly only 13 air-worthy planes still survive. We saw the bomber land, and then a few WWII veterans went up for a spin; I held my breath as the plane took off, seemingly creeping along the entire length of the runway before becoming airborne.

Lauris with a WWII veteran in front of the "Nine O Nine" B-17
Another heavy bomber, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator was a more modern design with a higher top speed, greater range, and a heavier bomb load, but also more difficult to fly and more vulnerable to battle damage. The most produced heavy bomber in history, it was a common sight to see one flying over Greenville as Greenville Army Airbase (now SCTAC) was a training center the aircraft during the War.

In front of the B-24 "Witchcraft"
In contrast, the North American Aviation P-51 Mustang was a long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber, used not only during World War II but also the Korean War. First flown operationally by the Royal Air Force (RAF), the enhanced engine resulted in unrivaled performance at altitudes above 15,000 feet, giving the Americans the edge over the Luftwaffe's fighters at this altitude. During World War II, Mustang pilots claimed 4,950 enemy aircraft shot down.

The P-51 Mustang Fighter “Betty Jane”
The Collings Foundation is a non-profit founded in 1979. The purpose of the foundation is to organize and support "living history" events such as the Wings of Freedom tour, that enable Americans to learn more about their heritage through direct participation. Honoring the sacrifices made by our veterans and educating visitors about our national history and heritage, the tour has made more than 2,600 visits to airports across the United States in 22 years.

Checking out the interior of the B-24 bomber
Although “flight experience” runs a tad steeper (and reservations are needed), access to all three aircraft including a walk through tour is $12 for adults, and $6 for children 12 and under (there is no charge for WWII Veterans). We were able to climb into both of the bombers and explore the interior; quarters were cramped, but it was certainly an educational experience. I find it hard to imagine being inside while airborne. The planes will be open for tour this weekend, 9am to 4:30pm both Saturday and Sunday, with flight training and experience available afterwards at an additional charge.

Lauris and "Witchcraft," the B-24

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