Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom Tour Makes Stop In St. Louis: Part 1, Friday Arrivals

By Leo Cachat of The Aero Experience

The Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom tour made a stop at the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum, located at historic 1929 Curtiss-Wright Hangar 2 at St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia, IL July 25 – July 27, 2014.  The Aero Experience was there to bring you the sights of the weekend, especially our visits with some of the Veterans who flew in one of the three historic aircraft parked on the ramp just outside the museum.  I attended Friday’s arrival and witnessed Saturday’s B-24 veteran flight, while fellow contributor Mark Nankivil covered Sunday and Monday’s departure of the aircraft for nearly Creve Couer Airport (see photo essay in Part 2).
The B-17 “Nine O Nine,” B-24 “Witchcraft” and the TP-51C “Betty Jane” were all scheduled to arrive at around 1:30 p.m. on Friday, but Mother Nature had different plans.  When leaving my house in Bonne Terre, Missouri, the weather was absolutely perfect - sunny and 80 degrees.  But as I traveled up the highway and hit Festus, I could see the clouds ahead, and they didn’t look good. The forecast called for only a 10% chance of rain, and when I arrived at the museum it was obvious we were going to be the 10% of people that received rain that day. I was undeterred as I have rain sleeves for my cameras, but the concern was the arrival of the aircraft.  Would they still be on time, and would the lighting be good enough for decent pictures?
My first question was answered when 1:30 p.m. came and went, and none of the aircraft were in sight. There were of course plenty of corporate aircraft to watch and photograph while waiting – and I took advantage of the opportunity.  It wasn’t until around 2 p.m. when we heard that the B-17 was due in within 10 minutes.  At that point I went to the edge of the taxiway to photograph the big beautiful bomber on its approach.  Sure enough, the big greenish-brown bomber was on a left banking turn to the runway as the sky still looked a little angry. “Nine O Nine” was now on the ground and making her way to the ramp as the crowd of onlookers, which included one other local media outlet, waited in anticipation.
As the B-17 was parked on the ramp, there was one gentleman there from Springfield, Missouri who knew this bomber better than just about anyone else there.  His name is Baisl Hackleman.  He’s 93 years young and he flew 30 missions from Bassingbourn, England as a pilot during WWII.  I was able to talk with Baisl for a while, and it was apparent as soon as the crew exited the airplane that they also knew Baisl quite well as he has seen this crew and the tour many times.  It was great to see the respect the crew gave him, but then again how could you not respect him?  While talking with him, he pointed out different intricacies about the aircraft.  Mr. Hackleman pointed to the bombs painted on the fuselage, specifically the third one from the cockpit window, and explained that this bomb represented his first mission. The airplane itself flew 140  missions without an abort or loss of a crewman, an amazing accomplishment when considering the history of the B-17 during WWII.  It was both a pleasure and an honor to spend time with Mr. Hackleman and see the joy in his eye when talking about this beloved airplane.
At this point lightning was flashing all around and the sky was ready to open up at any minute, so I started photographing until the rains came. It almost seemed fitting to have that kind of weather knowing what this airplane had gone through, and it made for some really nice photographic opportunities.
I noticed that just a few people came out to the airplane right away, and this caused me to ask, “Why?”  The response I got was kind of shocking to me, but it wasn’t just one person’s feeling.  The answer I got was: “We’re here to see the big boy come in – the B-24.”  These people would have to wait for another three hours as the weather had it and the TP-51C Mustang delayed.
I photographed the B-17 from just about every angle in the three hours leading up to getting word that the TP-51C and the B-24 were 10 minutes out.  Upon receiving that news, I again headed to the edge of the ramp to get sight of the TP-51C on approach and taxi as he came in first, followed 5 minutes later by the beautiful B-24 Liberator.  By this time, the weather had cleared beautifully and a nice breeze was now blowing.  Few others stuck around to wait for the arrival of these historic aircraft - Museum staff Mike Burke (Curator)  and Mark Badasch (Director) were also on hand when these birds were parked on the ramp.  What a treat it was to be photographing these historic beauties with no one around. I stayed until about 7 p.m. Friday evening and went home only to come back Saturday and document that day’s visitors as they interacted with the living history surrounding them (see Part 2).

Aviation Campers Experience Aviation Through Young Eagle Flights, Museum Exhibits

Middle School students visited the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum Thursday on a scheduled field trip as part of their participation in the Aviation Technology Academy sponsored by Rankin Technical College.  The week-long camp program offers a series of activities that illustrate career opportunities in the aviation and aerospace industries.  Students touring the museum, located in historic Curtiss-Wright Hangar 2 at St. Louis Downtown Airport, learned about the development of aircraft design over the last century, including pilot training technology from 1940s Link Trainers to a restored F-4 Phantom II jet fighter cockpit.  They examined the structure of a Pietenpol aircraft under restoration, and learned about the mechanics of aircraft powerplants through the use of cutaway engine exhibits.  The highlight of the visit, though, was the opportunity for each student to receive a Young Eagle Flight arranged by EAA Chapter 64, also based at the airport.  In addition to experiencing the sheer enjoyment of flight, the students gained a practical knowledge of aircraft that no doubt will remain with them in the years to come as they make their career choices.

Special thanks to EAA Chapter 64 President Paul Voorhees, Young Eagles Coordinator Bob McDaniel, Young Eagles Ground Operations Coordinator Nick Turk, pilots Jeff Stephenson and Eve Cascella and museum staff for making this Midwest aero experience possible!

The Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum


Students tour a Lockheed Jetstar once owned by Howard Hughes


Students inside the Lockheed Jetstar


Students head out to their Young Eagle Flights


Pilot Bob McDaniel gets ready to taxi out for a flight


Aircraft are readied for their Young Eagle Flights


Pilot Eve Cascella leads students to the aircraft


Pilot Eve Cascella briefs the students before their flight


Pilot Jeff Stephenson briefs students before their flight


Pilot Jeff Stephenson demonstrates the pre-flight inspection


Pilot Jeff Stephenson points out the rudder on the tail


Students are shown the airport’s fire apparatus


Students pose with the F-4 Phantom II jet fighter cockpit


Pietenpol under restoration shows aircraft structure and engine


Pietenpol cockpit


R3350 cutaway under restoration shows working parts


1940s Link Trainers show how pilots learned instrument flight

Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom Tour Will Visit the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum July 25-27

The Wings of Freedom Tour of the WWII Vintage Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Consolidated B-24 Liberator and North American P-51 Mustang Announce Unique Display in Cahokia at St Louis Downtown Airport from July 25 to July 27.  The Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour Brings Extremely Rare Bomber and Fighter Aircraft for Local Living History Display as Part of 110-city Tour.

WHAT:  Participating in the Collings Foundation’s WINGS OF FREEDOM TOUR, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Nine O Nine” WWII Heavy Bomber, Consolidated B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft” WWII Heavy Bomber and P-51 Mustang fighter, will fly into St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia, IL for a visit from July 25 to July 27. This is a rare opportunity to visit, explore, and learn more about these unique and rare treasures of aviation history. The B-17 is one of only 8 in flying condition in the United States, the B-24J and Full Dual Control P-51C Mustang are the sole remaining examples of their type flying in the World. Visitors are invited to explore the aircraft inside and out – $12 for adults and $6 for children under 12 is requested for access to up-close viewing and tours through the inside of the aircraft. WWII Veterans can tour through the aircraft at no cost. Discounted rates for school groups. Visitors may also experience the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually take a 30-minute flight aboard these rare aircraft. Flights on either the B-17 or B-24 are $450 per person. Get some “stick time” in the world’s greatest fighter! P-51 flights are $2,200 for a half hour and $3,200 for a full hour. For reservations and information on flight experiences call 800-568-8924.

WHERE: The WINGS OF FREEDOM TOUR will be on display at St Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia, located at Greater St. Louis air and Space Museum, 2300 Vector Drive.  

WHEN: The WINGS OF FREEDOM TOUR will arrive at St Louis Downtown Airport at 2:00 PM on July 25 and will be on display at Greater St. Louis air and Space Museum at St Louis Downtown Airport until the aircraft departs July 27 after 5:00 PM. Hours of ground tours and display are: 2:00 PM through 5:00 PM on Friday, July 25; 9:00 AM through 5:00 PM on Saturday, July 26; 9:00 AM through 5:00 PM on Sunday, July 27. The 30-minute flight experiences are normally scheduled before and after the ground tour times above.

WHO: The Collings Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit educational foundation devoted to organizing “living history” events that allows people to learn more about their heritage and history through direct participation. The Nationwide WINGS OF FREEDOM TOUR is celebrating its 25th year and visits an average of 110 cities in over 35 states annually. Since its start, tens of millions of people have seen the B-17, B-24 & P-51 display at locations everywhere. The WINGS OF FREEDOM tour is one of the most extraordinary and unique interactive traveling historical displays of its kind.

WHY: The WINGS OF FREEDOM TOUR travels the nation a flying tribute to the flight crews who flew them, the ground crews who maintained them, the workers who built them, the soldiers, sailors and airmen they helped protect; and the citizens and families that share the freedom that they helped preserve. The B-17 & B-24 were the backbone of the American effort during the war from 1942 to 1945 and were famous for their ability to sustain damage and still accomplish the mission. Despite the risks of anti-aircraft fire, attacking enemy fighters, and the harrowing environment of sub-zero temperatures, many B-17s and B-24s safely brought their crews home. The P-51 Mustang was affectionately known as the bombers “Little Friend” – saving countless crews from attacking axis fighters. After the war, many aircraft were scrapped for their raw aluminum to rebuild a nation in post-war prosperity and therefore very few were spared. The rarity of the B-17, B-24 & P-51 – and their importance to telling the story of WWII is why the Collings Foundation continues to fly and display the aircraft nationwide. At each location we encourage local veterans and their families to visit and share their experiences and stories with the public. For aviation enthusiasts, the tour provides opportunity for the museum to come to the visitor and not the other way around! Visitors can find out more by visiting our website at

McDonnell Banshee Pilot Addreses McDonnell Aircraft Retiree Group

The weekly luncheon of a local McDonnell Aircraft/McDonnell Douglas retiree group included a special guest speaker this week – Mr. Bill Hunsicker.  Mr. Hunsicker served as a U.S. Naval Aviator during the mid 1950s, flying the McDonnell-built F2H-3 Banshee fighter/bomber during the critical years after the end of the Korean War fighting and the emergence of China as the Pacific threat to the U.S. The attendees this week were eager to hear a first-hand account from a Banshee pilot on what it was like to fly an aircraft that some of them designed and built.
They were not disappointed with what they heard.
Bill Hunsicker enlisted in the U.S. Navy NAVCAD program in 1953.  The Naval Aviation Cadet Program was used in various forms from 1935-1968 to train enlisted candidates with some college credit as Naval Aviators to increase the number of air crews during times of crisis.  The NAVCAD program from the 1950-1955 period was replaced by the Aviation Officer Candidate School at NAS Pensacola for college graduates.  Mr. Hunsicker was commissioned in May 1955 and assigned to the VF-213, an “All Weather Night Fighter Squadron.”  He was deployed in August 1956 aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard CVA-31, newly re-commissioned for the second time in September 1955 after receiving a major conversion to accept jet aircraft. He later transitioned to fly the Douglas F-4D Skyray for a short time before returning to the United States in March 1957 and leaving active duty in August of 1957 to complete his Engineering degree at Washington University in St. Louis.
Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum Collection
Mr. Hunsicker was very complimentary of the Banshee, describing it as a stable weapons platform and overall very reliable and easy to maintain aircraft.  Although it was not by then considered a “high performance” jet fighter due to its subsonic speed and less sophisticated avionics, the Banshee was still a valuable asset for night fleet defense, ground attack and “special weapons delivery” missions through the 1950s.  About half of his squadron’s aircraft were specially outfitted with taller landing gear, special bomb rack, bomb delivery avionics and aerial refueling probes to accommodate the potential delivery of atomic weapons.  Following the transition to the Skyray, the squadron’s Banshees were sold to Canada, where they served from land bases and the HMCS Bonaventure aircraft carrier until 1962.
Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum Collection
Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum Collection
The typical night fighter mission involved several Banshees, armed with four 20mm cannon, establishing an orbit fanning out at about 200 miles from the carrier.  For the ground attack mission, the Banshee carried 500 pound bombs and/or 5-inch HVAR rocket packs.  In order to fly the nuclear mission, specially-trained crews carried the 1800 pound Mk 7 tactical weapon delivered in the climbing toss method.  During the toss maneuver, the approach was made at high speed and very low altitude.  Pressing the weapons delivery button engaged the computer that then prompted the pilot to begin the 2-G pull-up and automatic weapon release at the top of the arc.  The pilot then reversed course and retreated at high speed to avoid the gamma ray and nuclear blast effects that soon followed.  It is no secret that China was the new Pacific threat at that time, especially on the heels of the hot war in Korea, and the crews practiced nuclear attack missions during their cruises in the region.  Following each cruise, the carrier returned to its home base, NAS Moffett Field, near San Francisco, CA.

It was indeed an honor to visit with Bill Hunsicker and the McDonnell Aircraft/McDonnell Douglas retirees this week.  Special thanks to Mr. Hunsicker for sharing his experiences, and also to Mr. Mike de Garcia from the McDonnell Aircraft/McDonnell Douglas retiree group and Mr. Mark Nankivil from the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum for producing the event.

Midwest Airport Fun Days Provides Aviation Experiences for Visitors

Midwest Airport Fun Days concluded the first annual event at St. Louis Downtown Airport with cloudy but dry weather following a stormy Saturday afternoon.  The ramp in front of Ideal Aviation and The Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum was full of warbirds and fly-ins, and visitors were treated to the sounds of the USAF Mustang Supercar X-1 revving and the Country and Bluegrass music from the Ramblers.  Other highlights included low and fast passes by airshow pilot Patrick McAlee and other local pilots, static displays of warbirds like the MO Commemorative Air Force B-25 and Warbird Warriors PV-2 Harpoon, and Young Eagle flights.  Local aviation and aerospace organization chapters provided demonstrations of their model rockets, RC aircraft, and educational materials.  Flight schools displayed their aircraft, and the Missouri Aviation Historical Society’s Chase Kohler took a Discovery Flight in the St. Louis Flight Training school’s Cessna 172.  73 Young Eagles were flown on Sunday, and five new members joined EAA Chapter 64.  All in all, the event was a good first edition of Midwest Airport Fun Days, and after a brief rest, planning for next year’s event will begin.

Special thanks to Ideal Aviation, Jet Aviation, Ozark Air Services, Parks College of St. Louis University, 345th Recruiting Squadron at Scott AFB, our sponsors and numerous other individuals who made this event possible.






























Countdown to Midwest Airport Fun Days: Warbirds Arrive at Museum

The Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum has begun its “Countdown to Midwest Airport Fun Days” with the arrival of several warbirds that will be on static display during the June 7-8 event.  The St. Louis Downtown Airport community recently welcomed a Douglas DC-3 cargo aircraft and the rare Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon, “Attu Warrior,” to the Ideal Aviation ramp for pre-event festivities starting early next week.  More activities are planned for the coming week, so check the event web page for more updates.



St. Louis Aerospace Community Welcomes Legendary NASA Apollo Program Flight Director Gene Kranz

Members of the St. Louis aerospace community welcomed legendary NASA Apollo Program Flight Director Gene Kranz at a dinner reception this evening at the Moonrise Hotel in the Delmar Loop.  The dinner was held in honor of Gene Kranz and his wife Marta, and included guests Lowell and Bobette Grissom and representatives from the St. Louis Rocketry Association, St. Louis Science Center, St. Louis University parks College, St. Louis Space Frontier, St. Louis Challenger Learning Center, Missouri Space Grant Consortium, Missouri Coalition for Math and Science, Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum and the Bonne Terre Space Museum.  Gene Kranze will make appearances at several events to encourage students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers, culminating with a public event this Saturday at the St. Louis Science Center.

NASA photo

Gene Kranz has past connections to the St. Louis area.  He obtained his aeronautical engineering degree from Parks College and worked on several projects for McDonnell Aircraft Corporation in the mid 1950s.  He joined NASA in 1960 in the Flight Control Operations Branch, and served in ever more responsible roles through the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs.  He is probably best known as the Lead Flight Director during the Apollo 13 mission, living up to the motto, ”Failure is not an Option,” and donning a white vest that has become a symbol of his role in the space race.  During tonight’s dinner reception, Gene Kranz was given a white vest with patches representing the sponsors of his visit to St. Louis this week.  The Aero Experience Founder Carmelo Turdo, representing his role on the Board of Directors of the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum, was one of the guests.  Here are some views of the festivities:

Gene Kranz (left) with David Kovar of the St. Louis Rocketry
Association and his wife Marta Kranz
Gene Kranz (left) with Joe Edwards, developer of the
Delmar Loop area of St. Louis


A donation to Gene Kranz’s favorite charity, Habitat for Humanity,
was presented during the dinner reception


David Kovar of the St. Louis Rocketry Association with his scale
model of the Apollo Saturn V rocket

Aerospace Community Mourns the Passing of McDonnell Douglas Engineer Les Eash

Lester E. Eash

Eash, Lester E. age 95, on Wednesday, April 16, 2014; preceded in death by his beloved wife of 57 years Daisy A. Eash, loving father of Susan (Roger) Stewart, Sally (Kent) McMillen, John (Marie) Eash, grandfather of 7, great-grandfather of 11, uncle, great-uncle, cousin and friend to all he met. Born in 1919 in Jet, OK, Les moved to Goshen, IN at age 4. It was during that time working on his father’s farm that he saw the Akron dirigible and became fascinated with aviation. After high school, he moved to Wichita, KS to live with his brother and attend Friends University. While in school, he worked for Stearman Aircraft (now Boeing) and Coleman Stove as a draftsman. After leaving school, he worked for several companies and eventually moved to St. Louis to work for Curtiss-Wright when he met Daisy. After marriage and closure of Curtiss-Wright, he and Daisy spent a short time in Toledo, OH working for WillysOverland and then returned to St. Louis for a job opportunity at McDonnell Aircraft Co. in 1945. Les worked on various aircraft programs at McDonnell Aircraft including the Banshee, Voodoo, and Phantom. One of his most memorable assignments was the designer and operator of the trapeze mechanism for the XF-85 Goblin parasite strike fighter that was designed to be carried in the bomb bay of a B-29 bomber. His last assignment at then McDonnell Douglas was Project Engineer for the DC-10 wing subsystems. This assignment led to a transfer to the Douglas Co. location in Long Beach, CA in 1976. After retirement from McDonnell Douglas in 1978, he went to work for Parker Hannifan as a Program Manager and then fully retired in 1980. While in California, he received a patent for the Champopper, a device used to open and retain the cork from a champaign bottle. He and Daisy returned to St. Louis in 1987 to enjoy time with family and friends. Les enjoyed singing in his church choirs and barbershop choruses, bowling, golf, Dixieland jazz music, returning to Indiana for High School Reunions, leading volunteer groups and spending time with family and friends. Let his faith, friendship and rolling with the punches philosophy be an inspiration for us all. Services: Please join the family in celebrating Lester’s life by attending a memorial service at St. John’s United Church of Christ in St. Charles, MO on Friday, 9 May at 7:00 p.m. Lester donated his remains to the Washington University School of Medicine. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Johns United Church of Christ Music Program in his memory.
Published in St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Apr. 22, 2014

Mr. Eash participated in programs recognizing his work on the McDonnell Aircraft XF-85 Goblin parasite fighter test program sponsored by the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum and the Missouri Aviation Historical Society.  We encourage you to re-visit these stories featuring Mr. Eash:

Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum

The Aero Experience

Museum Brings F-4 Cockpit to Gateway Harley-Davidson USO Fundraiser

The Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum brought the F-4 cockpit to the USO fundraising event, Gypsy Rendezvous, Saturday at Gateway Harley-Davidson in South St. Louis County.  Gateway Harley-Davidson sponsors monthly USO fundraisers to serve our veterans, and donated the motorcycle that was refurbished by Jet Aviation at St. Louis Downtown Airport for Army Specialist Chad Hembree, who will be a special guest at the upcoming Midwest Airport Fun Days event.  We thank Gateway Harley-Davidson for their hospitality, and look forward to working with them on future events.

There’s Something In the Air: Midwest Airport Fun Days Offers a Variety of Aerial Adventures

This new Midwest Aviation event offers free, family-friendly fun to the public with our thriving aviation community!  Produced by the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum, Ideal Aviation, EAA Chapter 64 and The Aero Experience, Midwest Airport Fun Days will provide an opportunity for our visitors to experience aviation first-hand and have a lot of fun at the same time.

There will be something for everyone – tour the new exhibits at the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum; find something interesting in the Expo Hangar (courtesy of Ideal Aviation); check out the aircraft on static display; look to the sky as local pilots fly their aircraft; meet special guest Pitts Special airshow pilot Patrick McAlee; and take a flight in the MO CAF B-25 Mitchell bomber “Show Me”, MO CAF Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, Kevin Kegin’s 1941 Waco or Greg Vallero’s AT-6 Texan.  Sunday’s activity will include Young Eagle Flights sponsored by EAA Chapter 64.  There will be great food and music to keep everyone having a great time!
Ride in a North American B-25J Mitchell bomber
Ride in a Grumman TBM-3E Avenger torpedo bomber
Check out the Aeronca 65TAC/L-3E Defender
Meet airshow pilot Patrick McAlee
Fly in a 1941 Waco UPF-7!packages/c1druFly in a North American AT-6F Texan