Three World War II aircraft flew into the Chesterfield County Airport Friday, Oct. 21 bringing the Wings of Freedom Tour to veterans – as well as their families – and folks from around the region. The event marked the beginning of a four-day tour designed for locals to see, explore and learn more about the unique treasures of aviation history.
Sponsored by The Collings Foundation, a 501 c3 non-profit educational foundation devoted to organizing “living history” events, the event welcomed the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Nine O Nine,” the Consolidated B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft,” and a P-51 Mustang. The B-17 is one of only 10 in flying condition in the country, and the particular B-24 and the P-51 are the sole remaining planes of their type still flying in the world.
The national tour is in its 22nd year and visits an average of 110 cities in 35 states each year to pay tribute to the men who served our country during the war. During the weekend, visitors were invited to explore the aircrafts inside and out at a small fee, which would benefit the foundation; however, World War II veterans were able to tour through the aircraft at no cost.
“It’s truly a great opportunity for veterans to see the planes one more time; and great for their families to see all that they did during the war,” said pilot Mac McCauley, who manned the massive B-17 with co-pilot Derick Ward in from Lynchburg, Va., before a crowd of eager onlookers.
He said the planes are owned by The Collings Foundation, and volunteers keep it preserved and flying for the veterans and their families to see all over the country. Funds that go into the foundation go directly into preserving the planes for nationwide tours.
The two pilots then took World War II veteran Everett Worrell, 89, on a 30-minute flight over the Lake Chesdin reservoir. A resident of Disputanta, Va., Worrell flew 35 combat missions as a pilot in the war, his last in 1945 over Germany.
He said the flight was enjoyable. “I would have rather been in the cockpit,” Worrell said after the flight. “It was a bad day for flying, with all the heavy winds, but our pilot did a great job with her. And I certainly enjoyed being in the sky again.”
Life-long Chesterfield County residents Dewitt Pemberton and his wife, Vera, have visited the Wings of Freedom Tour at the airport for the last few years it was held there. Pemberton was drafted to the Navy once the war was over, and was sent to China during its reconstruction era.
“Though the crowd isn’t what it used to be, it’s still a great sight to see all these people come out here and support our veterans,” Pemberton said.
For more information about the foundation and the Wings of Freedom Tour, visit www.collingsfoundation.org .
Johnson wins a ride on a B-24
Colonial Heights resident Billy Johnson recently won a contest to ride a B-24 Liberator, a World War II aircraft, from Lynchburg, Va., to the Chesterfield County Airport last Friday as part of the Wings of Freedom Tour sponsored by The Collings Foundation.
Her daughter, Chester resident Elizabeth Howard, had submitted a letter to the radio station Lite 98, for a contest to travel on the plane free of charge. The contest asked people to write a letter explaining what made them most deserving of the flight.
Unbeknownst to Johnson, Howard wrote a letter telling how Johnson’s father, Bill Sheely, a tailgunner in World War II, was on a plane that was shot down over Belgium during the war. At the time of his death, his wife was still pregnant with Johnson. Since that time, Johnson’s mother has devoted much of her life to researching the crew, visiting his burial site in Belgium and the championing the veterans of our country.
“The flight was wonderful; it was a very humbling experience. I felt how he may have felt on the plane during the war; to sit where he sat,” Johnson said. “I’ve always had a tremendous respect for our American fighters. It was the trip of a lifetime. I felt very close to him up there.”