p-51 mustang

Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom Tour Makes Stop In St. Louis: Part 2, Veteran Flight, Departures

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 below).

I arrived Saturday morning just before 9 a.m., and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect as a group of Veterans were getting ready to go for their flight in the B-24.  I was allowed to go out as they received their briefing before boarding this beast - quite a tricky process. Once everyone was aboard, the ramp was cleared and the bomber took off.  They flew around the St. Louis area in one of only two B-24s still flying in the world (B-24A “Diamond Lil” was in Dupage, IL that  weekend prior to arriving in Oshkosh).  After the B-24 returned, I talked with some of those who flew. Each person said it was great, but one gentleman said his hat blew out!   I don’t know if that counts as a bombing mission or not, so we’ll have to keep an eye on the side of the plane and see. I spoke with Kelsey Hickman, a crewman on a B-24 during WWII. His jacket leaves no doubt that he is well traveled, and his spirit beamed as he spoke with a crewman of the bomber as they sat beneath the plane.  He spoke of being shot down 4 times, crash landing 2 times and being a P.O.W. in Russia during WWII.  What can you say to a man like that other than thank you - which is exactly what I said.  I also spoke with Doyle Treese who was a tail gunner in a B-24 during WWII.   It was an awesome experience to listen to the stories of these men who changed the world almost 70 years ago!  Rodney Fant was also on board this special flight around St. Louis.  He was a navigator in a C-130 in the Vietnam War. I don’t know if these gentlemen knew each other before they came to the museum for their flight, but they were leaving together sharing stories.  This is the beauty of what aviation, and more specifically the restoration of historic aircraft, can do.I then roamed the ramp and photographed the crowd that came out on what has turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year.  It was very nice to see a good-sized crowd and, more importantly, a lot of kids looking at these three pieces of history sitting in front of them.  I watched as some of the children marveled at the general aviation aircraft taxiing by them on the way to the nearby runway for takeoff.  It was a very pleasing sight to see their excitement, and I hope the experience makes an impact on them the way it did to me when I was a young child.

Thank you to the men and women of the Collings Foundation for bringing these beautiful historic aircraft to St. Louis and for the opportunity to visit with you and the Veterans that flew in your aircraft.  You keep history alive in a culture that more and more does not teach our children about the sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation to save the world from tyranny.  We look forward to welcoming you back in future years!

Thanks to Mark Nankivil for these photos from Sunday and Monday’s departure:

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).

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 www.collingsfoundation.org.