The Collings Foundation’s 24th annual Wings of Freedom national tour will begin at this month’s Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Fla., Jan. 17-20. The tour, which is set to visit more than 100 cities in less than a year, will include B-17 Flying Fortress veteran pilot Marvin Goldberg on the crew of its our inbound flight to Sebring Regional Airport as part of his 90th birthday.
Since 1989, a major focus of the foundation has been the Wings of Freedom Tour of WWII aircraft. Today, three fully restored aircraft are showcased: a B-24 Liberator, a B-17 Flying Fortress and a P-51C Mustang.
The foundation’s 1944 vintage Consolidated B-24J Liberator is painted as “Witchcraft,” an 8th Air Force bomber that flew a record 130 missions over Europe as part of the 467th Bomber Group. The Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress flies as “Nine-O-Nine,” an 8th Air Force, 91st Bomber Group heavy bomber. The B-17 was the companion of the B-24 in thousands of wartime, bombing, and reconnaissance missions. Together they were the backbone of the daylight strategic bombing campaign of WWII.
Joining the bombers in 2013 is a P-51C Mustang escort fighter “Betty Jane.” The P-51 was affectionately nicknamed by the bomber crews as their “Little Friends.” The fighters and the pilots who flew them saved countless lives in the skies and on the ground, and helped turn the tide of WWII. The P-51 is arguably the finest fighter aircraft in the history of aviation.
The Wings of Freedom Tour has two goals: to honor the sacrifices made by our veterans that allow us to enjoy our freedom; and to educate the visitors, especially younger Americans, about our national history and heritage. The foundation encourages people to tour the planes, talk to the veterans who come to visit the aircraft, and participate in a flight experience.
In twenty-four years, the tour has made more than 2,700 visits to airports across the United States and Alaska. While the exact number of visitors is difficult to gauge, it is estimated that 4 million people see these fully restored historic aircraft annually.