The “Wings of Freedom” tour visited the Monterey Airport from Wednesday, May 16, to Friday, May 18. Four US WWII planes were present: the B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-24 Liberator, the B-25 Mitchell, and the P-51 Mustang. These planes were restored and are maintained by the nonprofit organization, The Collings Foundation. All of these five planes are actively flown around the country, stopping at various cities along the way on their tour.
The first of the planes on display was the revered B-17G Flying Fortress. With a range of over 2400 miles, a wingspan of 103 feet 9.2 inches, 13 x M2 .50 caliber Browning Machine Guns, and 10 experienced crew members, the B-17G was a formidable force. More so than any other plane involved in World War II, the B-17 is the most famous and represented the immense power of the United States. The plane present at the Monterey Airport was built in 1945, too late to see any actual conflict. However, the plane was restored as the “Nine-O-Nine” aircraft, a B-17 that completed 140 missions in the European Theater and never lost a single crew member or aborted a single mission.
The next plane on display was the last flying B-24J Liberator Bomber in the world. This bomber served as a strategic bomber, with its purpose being to demoralize the enemy by bombing cities or other sites of the civilian economy. The B-24J had a wingspan of 110 feet, 10x M2 .50 caliber Browning Machine Guns, and a crew of 10. The actual B-24J present on display was built in 1944, and was given to the Royal Air Force (RAF), where it saw anti-shipping, bombing, and resupply missions over the Pacific. This aircraft was abandoned in India, where it sat until Dr. Robert Collings purchased the plane. This plane was renamed “Witchcraft” after the B-24 bomber that flew in the European Theater, and never turned back on any mission and never suffered any crew losses or injuries.
The last plane on display was the B-25 Mitchell. This plane was known for its 2 x 1700 horsepower Wright R-2600-92 engines, which powered the most revered medium-sized bomber in WWII. The physical aircraft present was built in 1944, serving as part ofthe AAF Flying Training Command. For 25 years, this aircraft served as a forest-fire fighting civilian plane. In 1984, this plane was acquired by the Collings Foundation, making it the foundation’s first plane. The plane was renamed the “Tondelayo,” a famous B-25 that flew over New Guinea as part of the “Air Apaches.” On October 18, 1943, one of its engines was shot out, and the crew was forced to fight 50 Japanese fighter planes while they attempted to return to base. However, both wingmen were shot down. During the escape, the gunners shot down five planes, and four other planes crashed into the sea after misjudging their attacks. The Tondelayo successfully returned to base with heavy damage, illustrating a story of immense bravery, tenacity, and endurance.
To learn more about these planes, visit www.collingsfoundation.org for more information on tour dates or to see these fine examples of “Wings of Freedom.”