The Collings Foundation roared into town last weekend with its two bombers, the B-17 and B-24, and Betty Jane, the foundation's P-51C Mustang. Venice, it turns out, is one of the tour's best stops gate wise and every year, I try to help my pal Nick Carlucci handling parking and other support duties.
So a bunch of us put on our orange traffic vests, directing folks away from the FBO's limited parking and toward an overflow lot dedicated just to the purpose. This turns out to be more interesting than you might imagine because you never know who's going to drive through the gate.
On Saturday morning, a middle-aged women in an SUV stopped with a fellow who I took to be her Dad in the backseat. B-17 bombardier, she said, wondering if there was a closer place to park so he wouldn't have to walk far. She didn't have a handicapped sticker but empowered with all the authority granted to me by an orange vest, I directed her to a handicapped spot. (So sue me
.) Later in the day, a woman with a clear Australian accentwhich turned out be New Zealander, actuallypulled in, wondering where the airplanes were. She was a Pacific theater veteran and had the pictures to prove it. I told her to let the Collings folks know; they waive the gate fee for veterans.
Speaking of gate fees, Collings charges $12 a head and $6 for kids. For some people, especially in a tight economy, that seems a bit steep, for many walked to the gate and turned right back around. But the reality is, considering that the Collings tour is living history on the wing, it's really a bargain, in my view. Other groups tour warbirds, but none quite so extensively as Collings and the sad truth is, the opportunity to view a B-17 or B-24 up close, including walking through it and seeing it fly or even riding in it, is not something that will be available forever. Each year, it's gets more expensive and difficult to keep these airplanes touring for 10 months. Collings' Hunter Chaney told me the bombers cost about $4400 per flight hour. That's a lot of $12 cover charges.
|photo by David Ansley|
|click for a larger version|
Ah, but the rewards. Here in Venice, we have an unusual concentration of World War II vets. I sometimes think half the surviving 8th Air Force occupies the retirement condos here. I stood at a respectful distance and watched one of those vets leaning on his cane, just staring at the nose of the B-17 for many minutes. I'm neither emotional nor given to flights of flag waving patriotism, but I couldn't suppress a tear.
The point is, these bomber tours represent a rare chance for veterans to have one last look and for the sons, daughters and grandkids of those vets to get the barest glimpse of what it must have been like to be a 19-year-old kid shivering through a bombing raid in the waist or ball turret. Collings has been touring for 23 years, but we all know it won't do this forever, nor will many of the veterans be with us much longer.
So if Collings comes to your town, get Grandad out there and if you can afford it, throw $20 in the donation jar. Just the mere sight of one these airplanes low and slow in the downwind is worth that much.
By the way, a couple of years ago, when Collings was in town, I flew with Steve Gustafson, who's left wing for the Aeroshell T-6 team, and I shot this video. But I never got a chance to get the background on the airplane, so this year, Mark Murphy filled me in. There's also a good cockpit tour of the Mustang.