This may seem a bit off topic but it’s not really. I find all types of historic technology interesting, hopefully you will too. The War Birds of the Collings Foundation were scheduled to visit Greenville, SC. from October 27 to the 29th and I was ready to enjoy three days of watching vintage aircraft take to the autumn sky but it didn’t exactly work out that way. Right from the start the Gremlins crawled out of the woodwork or the clouds or wherever they hide when they’re not busy dismantling aircraft engines.
Four aircraft from their World War 2 collection, a B-17, B-24 and B-25 bombers plus a TF-51 Mustang were supposed to be on display and available for tours beginning at 2:00 pm on Friday afternoon. I arrived at Greenville’s Downtown Airport about 11:00 am halfway expecting them to already be lined up on the apron but no war birds there. Good deal, I wasn’t too late to watch them land so I headed for an observation area at the end of the runway. It was well past two before the B-17 made its appearance, then it wandered around the the sky several miles from the airport for about half an hour before landing. The thing that stood out most was was how slow it was flying. It reminded me of a dirigible making stately passes off in the distance.
Next to arrive was the two seat trainer version of the P-51D Mustang. Elegant is the best description for this aircraft. Powered by a V-12 Packard-Merlin engine producing 1,490 horsepower it cuts through the sky with the effortless grace of a world class figure skater. It still seems sleek and fast, even by today’s standards.
North American Aviation Inc. produced 8,156 P-51D Mustangs but far fewer copies of the two place trainer version were built. This is one of the three known surviving examples in flying condition. It served with the 167th Fighter Squadron of the West Virginia Air National Guard. This squadron was the last to fly the Mustang in operational service. Stationed at Martinsburg, West virginia it was flown by the Guard until January 1957. It flies today wearing its original Air Guard markings.
The shadows were growing long when the next plane arrived. I spotted it several miles out as it lined up on its final approach. There is no mistaking the profile of the Consolidated Liberator. This is the only example of the B-24 J still flying today. Built in August 1944 it was delivered to the Army Air Corp and transferred to the Royal Air Force under lend - lease. It served in the Pacific Theater until the war’s end when it was abandoned in Kanpur, India. In 1948 it was reconditioned by the Indian Air Force who flew it until 1968. Decommissioned again, it was acquired by a collector and shipped to England. Dr. Robert Collings purchased it in 1984 and had it shipped to Stow, Ma. where a five year restoration project began. It flew again in September 1989 as part of the Collings Foundation collection.
“Tondelayo” the North American B-25 Mitchell was delayed; as it turned out, for the duration of the show. Rumor has it that there were mechanical problems. It was late afternoon by this point but the other three aircraft managed at least one flight with passengers before dark.
An early polar plunger had been pushing down into the Plains States from Canada and slowly spreading eastward since the beginning of the week and by Saturday its effects were reaching the Carolinas. A drizzling rain was falling intermittently so I stayed at home. Sunday was a little better, the rain had been replaced by cold temperatures and wind that was gusting up to 30 mph. This pretty much grounded the bombers and the Mustang was experiencing electrical problems. A Civil Air Patrol volunteer worker that I talked to pointed out that the weather added a touch of authenticity because it resembled conditions in Europe that the aircraft would have encountered during the war. Maybe so but I don’t think anyone would have complained about a warm, sunny day.
The Collings Foundation is a nonprofit educational foundation whose mission is to promote living history through events like this Wings of Freedom Tour. If you are fortunate enough to live near a city that they visit on one of their tours, I recommend that you take advantage of the opportunity to experience these unique aircraft. Walkthrough tours and flight experiences are available. You can learn more about future events, the aircraft and watch video clips of a ride on these planes by visiting www.collingsfoundation.org