By Tony Cagala
Three of the most iconic planes of World War II will be on display at Ramona Airport when the Wings of Freedom Tour makes its return to the area.
The B-17 Flying Fortress, the North American P-51 Mustang and the B-24 Liberator will be at the airport for three days beginning May 4. Walk-through tours and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take flight in one of the rare treasures will be available for a tax-deductible fee.
This unique display of aviation history last flew into Ramona in 2008. The planes travel the nation, serving as a flying tribute to the men who flew in them, the soldiers and sailors protected by them, and the citizens and families that share in the freedom they helped preserve. They are owned by the Collings Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Stow, Mass.
“This is living history,” said Alan Cutsinger, a volunteer crewman since 2008. “Our World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,000 a day. And they’re still around. You can meet them, talk to them. You can walk through these planes; you can get some idea of what World War II was like, what these guys did.”
To fly in the B-17 is pretty incredible, said Cutsinger. “It’s just an awesome experience. You’re sitting in the plane and they start the engines up and the whole thing just vibrates, and you can just feel the power...I get goosebumps on my arm every time I’m up in this plane.”
All of the planes have stories, just as each of the men who flew in them does, and all are modeled after real-life planes that flew in the war. The B-17 is modeled after the “Nine-O-Nine,” which flew 140 missions over Berlin and Tokyo without ever losing a crewman. The B-24, nick-named “Witchcraft,” was based in England in 1944 and never lost a crewman on any of its missions, either.
The P-51 is named “Betty Jane” in honor of Col. Charles M. McCorkle, a pilot who flew in a P-51 Mustang named Betty Jane. McCorkle had 11 confirmed air combat victories in the Mediterranean Theater.
“Look and listen and walk through the planes and you’ll learn something,” Cutsinger said, adding, “you’ll learn something very valuable.”
Chuck Hall, a retired airline captain and owner of Chuck Hall Aviation based at the airport, will fly his own P-51 Mustang and have it on the tarmac for display, too.
“I’ve been in the flying business for 60 years, and I have to admit that the P-51 is probably one of the most exciting airplanes I’ve ever flown,” Hall said. “It’s a piece of history; it’s the most popular fighter that came out of World War II.”
Admission to the Wings of Freedom tour is $12 for adults and $6 for children 12 years and younger. World War II veterans will be admitted free.
Tickets for the 30-minute flights in either the B-17 or B-24 are $425 per person, and $2,200 to fly in the P-51 Mustang—or $3,200 for a full hour.
More information is available at, www.cfdn.org. Discounts for groups may be arranged by calling 1-800-568-8924.
Ramona Airport is at 2926 Montecito Road.