The Collings Foundation is a private non-profit that, among other things, tours the country with a fleet of WWII-era aircraft. Last weekend its Wings of Freedom Tour stopped at Marana Regional Airport, just north of Tucson, and I rode out to see the planes. Visitors can pay to fly on some of the aircraft, but that’s out of my league. Instead, I paid the standard $15 admission fee, a price I thought quite reasonable, for access to the ramp and an opportunity to get up close and personal with the aircraft.
Marana Airport set the event up on an isolated apron east of the runway, accessible by a gravel road (thankfully the gravel wasn’t too deep, and I was able to stay upright on my motorcycle). In addition to the Wings of Freedom aircraft, a number of WWII-ish military vehicles were on display … I think they belonged to a local group, not the foundation, because only a few were authentic.
The Collings Foundation aircraft included two fighters and three bombers. Both fighters were two-seat trainers, a Curtiss TP-40N Warhawk and a North American TF-51D Mustang. The bombers included two four-engined heavies, a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress and a Consolidated B-24J Liberator, and a medium twin, a North American B-25 Mitchell.
The foundation’s B-24 is, according to the placard, the only flying Liberator in the world. It was one of 36 former RAF B-24s abandoned in a scrap yard at Chakeri airfield, Kanpur, at the end of WWII. The bombers were reclaimed and made flyable again by the Indian Air Force, which flew them until 1968. We have an Indian Air Force Liberator on display at Pima Air and Space Museum, but until I saw the foundation’s Liberator two days ago, I didn’t know there had been more of them.
I was interested to note that the concrete apron under the aircraft was spotless: not a drop of oil anywhere, which tells me these aircraft (or at least their engines) are kept in top shape.
Click here if you’d like to view all the photos in my Collings Foundation album on Flickr, including shots of some of the military vehicles on display (at least the ones I judged to be of genuine WWII or Korean War vintage).
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