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Tour showcases World War II, Vietnam planes

Tour showcases World War II, Vietnam planes

Students from the U.S. Aviation Academy in Denton use vintage planes from The Wings of Freedom Tour as a learning experience. The tour is open to the public at Denton Municipal Airport until March 27. Photo by Aimee Pass/Staff Photographer

Tour showcases World War II, Vietnam planes
March 26
16:40 2013

Joshua Knopp /  Staff Writer

The Wings of Freedom Tour, featuring extremely rare World War II and Vietnam-era aircrafts, is visiting Denton Municipal Airport March 26 and 27.

The tour is sponsored by the Collings Foundation, a nonprofit educational foundation focused on living history events. Visitors are invited to enter and even go up into historic aircrafts.

The exhibit features a German fighter, the Messerschmitt ME262, a TP-51C Mustang, a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-24 Liberator and a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter from Vietnam.

The B-17 is one of nine in working condition in the world. The Messerschmitt is one of just three and the B-24 is the only one of its kind still in flying condition. It was made in Fort Worth.

Medal of Honor recipient Stephen Pless flew the Huey helicopter and used it to shield and rescue four wounded soldiers from dozens of Viet Cong as the soldiers boarded. He is the only Marine aviator to receive the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War. He survived the war, but died in a motorcycle accident shortly after receiving his medal.

Hunter Chaney, director of marketing with the Collings Foundation, said while historical facts can be found elsewhere, the Wings of Freedom Tour is important because visitors can explore the aircraft.

“This is a living interaction in history, it isn’t static at all,” he said. “The challenge for educators these days in how we engage people in this particular time in history. There’s no better way to do it than tour through and fly in these World War II aircraft.”

Rob Collings, whose parents started the Collings Foundation, said the planes represent the entire aerial war in World War II. The B-17 and B-24 were used as strategic bombers and the Messerschmitt fighters took them out.

“Most of what they [the bombers] are doing is strategic, taking out factories and the enemy’s ability to fight back,” Collings said. “The Mustang was the first plane that could fly all the way to Germany and back with these bombers. So all four of these really tell the story of the air war.”

Collings said the best part of holding the tour was seeing veterans who flew the kinds of planes come reminisce.

“It means a lot to me personally to give back to these guys,” he said. “For them to come back and to see the look on their face and to be able to show their kids and grandkids what they flew.”

One on hand veteran, Richard Jefferies, said he has a family connection when he sees the planes. Jefferies worked in the Army Corps of Engineers, but his brother, Walter, served flying a B-17. Richard Jefferies was able to go up in one of the B-17 and experience what his late brother’s world was like.

“I did it because I felt like being in my brother’s shoes,” he said. “It’s noisy and cold, but it’s a powerful aircraft and the design is quite good.”

Another veteran, Robert Gruenhagen, said he agreed with Collings’ remarks about the nostalgia factor of seeing the planes. Gruenhagen had served by repairing mustangs, and said it was like seeing an old friend again.

“It’s a wonderful machine. I don’t really know how to put it in words,” he said. “Each one had its own little quirks and variations, but they had an individual personality and it was rewarding to keep them flying.”

The tour is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and tomorrow at Denton Municipal Airport. It costs $12 for adults and $6 for children under 12.  Rides in the aircraft start at $80 per hour in the Huey and $425 in the bombers.

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