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Wings of Freedom: Aircraft tour shows off WWII bombers, fighter planes at Moffett Field

Moffett Field was abuzz Sunday with the sound of aircraft engines overhead and on the ground, as dozens of visitors showed up to check out World War II bombers and fighter planes here for a brief stay.
The Collings Foundation, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit, brought its Wings of Freedom Tour to Moffett Field last Friday, and the display runs until May 26. Visitors can see the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator and B-25 Mitchell bombers, as well as the P-51 Mustang fighter.
People of all ages marveled at the hulking B-17 Sunday as its four engines started up with a choppy grit, which quickly accelerated into a throaty roar as the plane took off for its first flight of the day.
The tour allows people to get up close to the grounded planes, and offers tickets to ride, with the cost of admission funding the program’s tour and aircraft maintenance.
Ryan Keough, the foundation’s director of development, said in an interview Sunday the tour is a way for people to experience history, and to appreciate the sacrifice of servicemen who flew the aircraft.
“They didn’t know anything about what type of perils they would see in the skies over enemy territory,” he said, noting that roughly half of the 18,000 B-24s and 12,000 B-17s manufactured made it back from bombing missions.
Dave Campbell, a 95-year-old veteran from San Mateo, piloted a B-24 during the war and made it back home. He recalled that it took about 12 seconds for his crews to release the bombs once they reached their target.
“But (the enemy) can get a gun on you in four, so you’re under the gun. And I didn’t meant that as a pun,” he said.
Asked if he was ever worried about not living through a mission, Campbell said, “Hell no,” with a smile. “I was going to make it, I was going to come back and marry the gal that I loved.”
Seated near the tail gun of the B-24 at Moffett Field, Campbell said that people should come see the aircraft so they can understand “what this country stands for, what people will do to maintain it.”
Keough said the tour — which has been running for 25 years — also serves to highlight the advances in technology that were made through the war effort, which plays well in Silicon Valley.
“Folks that are involved with high technology in this area, all of the sudden can see the high technology of the ’40s,” he said.
“This was built by slide rules and pencils,” Keough said, standing under the wing of a B-24. “And the fact that it was built only 40 years after the Wright brothers first flew in that rickety, kite-like thing, it gives a lot of people perspective,” he added.
“We really started out World War II with just piston-engine aircraft. We ended the war at the dawn of the jet age. All these technologies that are still being used today were tested, and pretty much derived, early on in the war,” he said.
“Nobody likes war, but this was a case where we stepped up and we created aircraft that could do the job,” Keough said.
Steve Coutches, a pilot from Alamo, volunteers to fly the the P-51 Mustang for the tour to help illustrate history for visitors, and because it’s fun for him, too.
“It’s the airplane that every pilot dreams about flying,” Coutches said.
The Mustang was designed to fly farther than its predecessors, to accompany bombers deeper into enemy territory and fend off Axis powers’ fighters, something Coutches hopes people will remember when they come see it at the airfield.
“The Mustang — without that airplane, World War II would have turned out differently,” Coutches said. “Basically it’s how we protected the freedoms that we enjoy today.”

If You Go
Visit  collingsfoundation.org/events/category/wings-of-freedom-tour/  for more information. Tickets for ground tours are $15 for adults, and $5 for children under 12. World War II veterans are admitted for free.

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