The Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour returned to Bremerton June 17-19 to showcase some of their rare war aircraft, including the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24, B-25, P-40 and P-51.
The three-day display included ground tours of the interior and exterior of the aircraft, as well as the chance to take a 30-minute flight aboard one of them for a cost ranging from $400 to $450. Ground tours were $15 for adults and $5 for children under 12.
“They’re keeping the history alive,” said volunteer pilot Robert Norman Jr., who is also a Boeing first officer on the 777. “We’ll never be able to thank those people enough. We’re losing them at an astonishing rate. We’re just making sure people don’t forget what that generation did.”
The tour itself lasts 10 months out of the year, starting at the southern tier of the U.S. during the winter months, then coming up the west coast during the spring before heading to the northern tier in the late summer and early fall. The tour is celebrating its 30th year in existence.
“Each plane has its own unique story, as they’ve survived 75 years,” Norman said. “The walking tours are most popular. The rides are a little bit more expensive but it is a true lifetime experience.”
The Collings Foundation is a nonprofit founded in 1979 with the purpose of preserving and exhibiting rare historical artifacts and organizing and supporting living history events that enable Americans to learn more about their heritage through direct participation, according to the foundation’s website.
“The Collings Foundation is military transportation, not just aviation,” Norman said. “They have these five airplanes and maybe 50 others and they are all in some state of flying condition or being restored.”
“I tell people [to] close your eyes and imagine a World War II bomber,” Norman Jr. said. “That airplane you’re thinking of is a B17. It’s iconic.”
The B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft” is the sole remaining aircraft of its type flying in the world, according to the Port of Bremerton. Norman said there were more B-24s built than any other airplane in history — approximately 18,000 were manufactured.
The B-25 Mitchell “Tondelayo” bomber is best known for being used in the U.S. Army Air Force’s Doolittle air raid on Tokyo during World War II. Also on display were the P-40 Warhawk “Jaws” and the P-51 Mustang “Betty Jane” fighters. The p-51 Mustang was recently awarded the Grand Champion award for restoration while the P-40 Warhawk is known as the front-line fighter for the Flying Tigers, the first American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force in 1941-1942.
Norman talked about the appeal that Bremerton has and why the tour chooses to come back every year.
“I live in Atlanta and I make a point to come out here every year. This is one of the most beautiful areas to fly in. The green, the trees and the water — it is such a gorgeous area to fly in. The people out here are great. They take good care of us.”
The Wings of Freedom Tour made stops in Port Angeles and at Seattle’s Boeing Field earlier this month.