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If there are vintage aircraft, they will come! In this LoCO Video Report we take you to the “Wings of Freedom” tour that attracted more than 700 locals to the Humboldt County airport over the past few days.
The airport transformed into a living history exhibit with the unique opportunity to explore four of the Collings Foundation’s fully restored WWII aircraft.
From bombers to escort fighters, rapid advancements in military aviation completely changed the way the world engages in war, and air warfare was a major component of WWII.
“It helped end the war, it allowed us to penetrate into Germany and destroy a lot of their communication facilities, a lot of their armament facilities, and made it easier for the allies,” said 93-year-old WWII veteran Daniel Freitas.
Freitas flew 28 missions as a radio operator on a B-17 in the 8th Air Force and remembers it well. For the past 25 years he’s been a local coordinator with the Collings Foundation and takes great pride in the annual event.
Frank Hale is a volunteer pilot with the foundation and says Wings of Freedom got started as a way to honor WWII veterans.
“Rather than have a museum where the vets go to the museum, we bring it to the vets,” he says. “And now a lot of the vets have passed away so it’s their families that want to come out and see these planes that their relatives flew in WWII.”
Some people just wandered around admiring the planes and snapping photos, while others toured the insides and took flights.
The foundation has recovered and restored many of the worlds landmark aircraft and relies on its tour and donations to keep the operation running.
Tuesday’s elaborate display featured four well-known warbirds, including the most widely recognized WWII aircraft — the B-17 Flying Fortress
“A reporter saw that it had 13 .50 caliber machine guns and he said it looks like a flying fortress and the name stuck,” said Hale.
Then there was the B-17’s sister, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator, which is the worlds only fully restored and flying plane of its kind. Third, the ever-reliable B-25 Mitchell, which was employed as a bomber in every theater of operations. And last but certainly not least, the escort fighter P-51 Mustang, which stayed with the bombers into enemy territory and back to base on every mission.
Eureka resident Henry Beneda took his first-ever ride on a P-51 in honor of his late father, who was a P-51 pilot with the Flying Tigers in WWII.
Beneda’s father, Glen, was actually shot down in China on his 80th mission but managed to survive behind enemy lines for 60 days. His father eventually made it to the headquarters of the fourth Chinese army and became friends with the general. Several years later the general’s daughter arranged for the Flying Tigers to return for a convention when Glen’s plane miraculously landed on a lake.
There was a TV show and a Chinese-produced documentary on Beneda’s story called “Touching the Tigers: Glen Beneda.”
For some it was a quick trip to see what the hype was about, but for others the experience was deeply meaningful.
Marie Eberhardt & Lindra Lomeli were both in attendance to support their veteran husbands, who were riding the Flying Fortress as part of checking off their “bucket list.”
And Beneda was full of emotion before setting foot on the plane and said “It’s really exciting, I miss my dad, so this is cool,” as he held back a tear.
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