Collings Bomber Tour Comes to Town

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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 accent—which turned out be New Zealander, actually—pulled 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.

Comments (10)

Thanks Paul, as always, for putting things in perspective. Opening w/e for the movie Red Tails and saw some gentlemen down in front and wondered if they had been part of all that and what their memories were...History is always important.

Posted by: David Friedman | February 20, 2012 2:43 AM    Report this comment

Where is Grandad gonna park if some guy in an orange vest...

Nice blog and video, tho. Methinks there are quite a few (from the stories and events) WWII vets here in the Arizona valley of the sun too...Hope Collings and the Planes of Fame and all the living, flying historic aircraft groups can keep them flying as long as possible. They're quite a national treasure.

Posted by: Dave Miller | February 20, 2012 1:27 PM    Report this comment

Several years ago Aluminum Overcast was in our area and since my father had been a B-17 pilot I decided to go for the ride. I tried to get dad to go but he wasn't interested so me and my sister went. It was an interesting ride, very noisy and sitting in the bombardier's seat with nothing but that plexiglass bubble in front of you at 700 feet got my adrenaline pumping. What a thrill.

Posted by: David Werth | February 20, 2012 6:49 PM    Report this comment

Back in 2006, the CAF's B-17, "Sentimental Journey", came to our local airport. My father flew B-29's in WWII, but because "Fifi" is the only airworthy B-29, the chance of experiencing flight in it is non-existent, so the B-17 was as close as I could get.

That flight in August of 2006 was one of the biggest thrills of my life, and when the CAF Loadmaster signaled to me that I'd be in the bombardier's seat for landing, the thrill was mixed with a giant lump in my throat.

According to Air and Space Magazine, there are only 10 airworthy B-17' left. Thanks for the experience.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMCwbUCmo60&feature=plcp&context=C32307b8UDOEgsToPDskKdqDgZDCrGURRYrcYgYJt3

Posted by: John Leonard | February 21, 2012 5:48 AM    Report this comment

Wot abaht the Spitfire!

Posted by: Brian McCulloch | February 21, 2012 7:25 AM    Report this comment

"Tuskegee Airmen", The C model Mustang of the Red Tail Squadron also has a back seat with controls (a stick), and has given rides to former Tuskeegee Airmen as well as members of the public.

Posted by: Joel Ludwigson | February 21, 2012 9:49 AM    Report this comment

Nick and the gang down there at VNC do a wonderful job of keeping the airport positively front and center to the community. Glad to hear the Collings visit went well and that the airport is turning the corner. It's a beautiful field with is its own WWII history.

Posted by: J Collins | February 21, 2012 4:01 PM    Report this comment

Don't have much to say this time but very interested in this topic

Posted by: Bruce Savage | February 22, 2012 11:50 AM    Report this comment

After Venice and Sarasota the Collings came to Leesberg and had a great display and a good crowd. Keep up the good work. To Davis Ansley...nice work behind the camera.

Vince Colling

Posted by: Vincent Colling | February 23, 2012 5:21 PM    Report this comment

I know that I'm late to the party (out flying yesterday) but I'm sure the Aussies and Kiwis don't like being confused with each other. Being married to an Aussie, I have the bruises to show for it!! :-)

Great article.

Brian

Posted by: Brian Buck | February 24, 2012 3:26 PM    Report this comment

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