BREMERTON — The Wings of Freedom Tour touched down June 19-21 at the Bremerton National Airport, giving people an opportunity to experience a bit of what it was like to fly in bomber and fighter aircraft in World War II.
“The Wings of Freedom tour is a flying, interactive memorial for our WWII veterans,” said Hunter Chaney, director of marketing for the Collings Foundation. “It features four of some of the most rare and iconic bomber and fighter aircraft from WWII.”
The aircraft include two heavy bombers and two fighter aircraft, including the B-17 Flying Fortress “Nine O Nine” (“One of eight flying in the world,” Chaney said); the B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft” (“It has the distinction of being the most mass-produced aircraft the history of the country, and this is the last one of its type flying in the world,” Chaney said); the B-25 Mitchell “Tondelayo” (“The same type of aircraft that flew in that well-known Doolittle Raid,” Chaney said); and the P-51 Mustang “Betty Jane” (“A really rare two-seat” plane, Chaney said).
People had the opportunity to not only view these planes, but to touch them and walk through them as well.
“To read about history, you might remember it or understand it,” Chaney said. “To experience something like this, a real, tactile experience in aviation history, is something you tend not to forget. When you’re inside the aircraft, what you’re seeing is straight out of WWII. It really is a tactile history lesson.”
Some people even had the opportunity to fly in the “Nine O Nine” or “Witchcraft.”
“Flying in the planes in a whole different can of worms,” Chaney said. “Flying in the aircraft is such an amazing experience, it’s so over the top. It’s really something that people never forget. The plane squeaks and moans and is loud. It really drives home what it must have been like to be a crew member during WWII.
“It’s that type of interaction, that level of excitement, that prompts people to want to learn more about this particular piece of flying history and WWII in general. It’s an excellent way to engage people in this history, not only as a means to better understand it, but as motivation to learn more.
“In a museum setting, it’s one thing to see a static aircraft. Here, you have a chance to touch and experience these planes.”
The Wings of Freedom Tour was started by the Collings Foundation. Chaney said the foundation started restoring the planes 32 years ago with the intention of having a “limited tour.”
“We had found that this living history tour is a particularly effective vehicle to engage people in WWII history,” Chaney said. “As the years progressed, the interest grew more and more.”
Now, the tour stops in about 110 cities in 35-40 states over the course of 10-and-a-half months every year. Chaney said about 4.5 million people see the tour each year.
“We started the tour with the same goals that we follow today, which is to engage people in this history and to honor our veterans in the most effective means we can,” Chaney said.
He said WWII history is “quickly being forgotten, and moving into the history books like the wars that precede it.”
“WWII, in general, is the worst conflict in human history since we’ve been on this little blue marble of ours,” he said. “It wasn’t long ago. All of the things that had transpired and all of the circumstances that had led up to WWII, and what happened in the aftermath, are so vitally important to remember. The thought is that if we know our history, we’re better fortified, better educated, to make wiser decisions that effect our future. A tour like this serves a very important role in reaching out to people who would otherwise not be particularly interested in WWII history, as a whole.”
Chaney added that WWII veterans often will be at the tour — people who actually flew the planes on display. He encouraged everyone to go to the tour — not just to view the planes, but to be speak with WWII veterans.
“It is so vitally important that we remember the sacrifices that were made in WWII,” Chaney said. “To be able to physically interact with [WWII aircraft] makes a particularly lasting impression on people. We hope they take away another level of understanding and interest.”
The Collings Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational foundation founded in 1979, with the purpose of organizing and supporting “living history” events and the preservation, exhibition and interaction of historical artifacts that enable Americans to learn more about their heritage through direct participation.
To learn more about the Collings Foundation, the Wings of Freedom Tour and future stops, go to collingsfoundation.org.
— Michelle Beahm is online editor for Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All photos included were taken by Michelle Beahm.