Now that Hunter Chaney and his Wings of Freedom Tour have hauled World War II bomber planes across the country for almost a quarter-century, the aircraft have been burning fuel longer than the war itself.
Not that he's counting, but Chaney, a spokesman for the Stow, Mass.-based Collings Foundation, says the mini-squadron of old wartime bombers that his organization souped up and knocked into flying shape 24 years ago have crisscrossed America 2,721 times. That's if you count the appearance that a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, a Consolidated B-24 Liberator and a North American P-51 Mustang, respectively, will make at Boca Raton Airport through Monday.
"It's one thing to listen to a history lesson in a classroom. It's another thing to have this interaction. It's like a time machine. Everything you see is straight out of 1945," Chaney says, whose group takes the bombers to 110 different cities a year, and takes them in for maintenance in New Smyrna Beach.
The Collings Foundation, the custodians behind the aircraft, will let the public climb aboard and, for a fee, fly in each aircraft, which are fully operational and, yes, still intimidating hunks of metal now 68 years removed from a battlefield. The B-17, Collings says, flew briefly in 1945 before it was retrofitted for air and sea rescue for downed combat pilots. The B-24, meanwhile, was transferred to the Royal Air Force for covert supply drops and bombing missions in India, while the P-51 Mustang, which Chaney calls the "Cadillac of fighters," never survived its first mission because the plane's engine malfunctioned during its maiden takeoff.
"The planes are getting more use now than they ever did in the actual war," Chaney says. "One thing we want to impress on people are their authentic looks, which is why we want you touching and crawling and bumping your heads."
The Wings of Freedom Tour will display its aircraft from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, to Monday, Feb. 4, at Boca Raton Airport, 3300 Airport Road. The bombers also will stop by Pompano Beach Air Park, 1001 N.E. 10th St., from noon to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday; 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; and 9 a.m.-noon Friday, Feb. 8; and at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport 2-4:30 p.m. Feb. 8 and 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Feb. 9 and Feb. 10. Admission is $6-$12, and free for veterans. Call 800-568-8924 or go to CollingsFoundation.org.