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Carroll County Times

Vintage aircraft fly into Westminster on Wings of Freedom Tour

In 1945, New Windsor native William Myers was an 24-year-old tail gunner on a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber stationed in the south of England, flying 25 combat missions over Germany.

The end of the war was the last time Myers had seen the interior of that type aircraft, until just four years ago, when he and two other surviving crewman were given a special ride on a fully restored B-24 Liberator at the Wings of Freedom Tour stop in Westminster.

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"They took the three of them up, the pilot, the bombardier and Dad," said Pamela Lindsay, of Westminster, Myers' daughter. "When they landed, he said that it was really, really special to have the three of them go up."

On Oct. 11 through Oct. 13, the Wings of Freedom Tour will return to the Carroll County Regional Airport to give Carroll residents a chance to tour and even fly in the B-24 and two other prop-driven vintage aircraft, a B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber and a P-51 Mustang fighter plane.

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The two bomber aircraft will be parked and open for tours between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Oct. 11, and 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Oct. 12 and 13, according to Henry Erk Jr., local coordinator for the event.

The P-51 will not be open for tours due to its small size and thin skin, Erk said.

"You can go all over the B-24 and the B-17, all the way up in the nose and the cockpit," Erk said. "You'll be surprised, there is not much space on those planes."

Erk said that tours will be $12 for those 12 and older and $6 for children younger than 12, while World War II veterans are free.

"They stamp your hand and I tell the people, if you're going to come back on Sunday, don't wash your hand. Keep the stamp and you don't have to pay again," Erk said. "It's good for [both] planes and you can go through as many times as you want."

The entrance to the Wings of Freedom Tour event will be one block past Airport Drive when heading north along Md. 97, Erk said, and those attending should turn left onto Old Meadow Branch Road and follow the signs to the event.

The Wings of Freedom Tour is a program of the Collings Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedication to living history education through the preservation of World War II era aircraft, according to Hunter Chaney, the foundation's director of Marketing.

"We found that the interaction with World War II aviation is a particularly effective means to engage people with history," Chaney said. "To read about World War II history, it's something you might remember, but something like touring through and flying in a fully restored World War II aircraft ... It's like walking into a time machine."

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Many people will recognize the B-17 aircraft from the movies, Chaney said, it having been used in numerous films over the years including the feature film, "The Memphis Belle."

The B-24, while not as well known, was the most mass produced aircraft in American history, according to Chaney, with more than 18,000 aircraft produced during the war, of which the Collings Foundation plane is the only one left flying in the world.

The P-51 on the other hand, was the first fighter escort with the fuel economy to ferry bomber crews all the way to their targets in Germany and back again, and Chaney said that this particular aircraft must have been responsible for saving thousands of lives.

The P-51 coming to Westminster also has one other special feature.

"This is the only C model [P-51] Mustang in the world that has a dual cockpit so that people can actually fly in this, with or without a license," Chaney said. "You get flight instruction so that you are actually flying the plane and it really is just a wonderful airplane to fly. There is a reason they call it the 'Cadillac of aircraft.'"

According to Erck, those who would like to fly the P-51 or in one of the bomber aircraft can make arrangements for an evening flight, or a morning flight the next day while at the Wings of Freedom event, or they may call the ride line at 800-568-8924 now to make a reservation ahead of time.

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Flights in the B-17 or B-24 aircraft are $425 per person for a 30 to 45 minute flight, while flights in the P-51 are $2,200 for 30 minutes and $3,200 for one hour.

"Each aircraft costs about $4,000 per hour to operate," Chaney said. "They don't make these parts any more, so apart from the engines, all the parts are custom fabricated."

While the Wings of Freedom Tour visits more than 100 airports each year, the Westminster stop has done something a little different than most of the others over the past five years, holding a '40s style Hangar Dance on Saturday night, according to Dennis Gore, coordinator of the dance.

"It's a '40's style swing dance with the Never Too Late Band, which is made up of retired folks from Carroll Lutheran Village," Gore said. "People like to come in period dress, which is optional, but we always have people come in period civilian or military dress. People have come in wearing zoot suits."

The Hangar Dance will be held from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 12, and tickets will be $10, available at the door or at the daytime Wings of Freedom Event. World War II and Korean War veterans are admitted for free.

In contrast to the daytime event, parking for the Hangar Dance will be at 200 Airport Drive, Westminster.

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According to Lindsay, her now 91-year-old father and Carroll Lutheran Village resident, will try to make it to the Wings of Freedom event, depending on his health and the weather, and said she has a new appreciation for what her father and his generation accomplished after touring the B-24 aircraft.

"It's keeping history alive. I knew my dad was in the war, I knew he was a tail gunner..." Lindsay said. "But when you see the conditions in which they flew. I mean, they were up there for eight or nine hours at a time, it was freezing cold, it was very primitive. It puts it in perspective and just hearing those planes going around, it's awesome, it really is."


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