MANKATO — As time marches on, World War II veterans are becoming fewer.
But there are still some veterans of the second world war in southern Minnesota, and a unique tour coming soon to the Mankato Regional Airport wants to welcome them free of charge and honor their service.
The Collings Foundation's Wings of Freedom Tour includes the WWII vintage Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Nine O Nine” Heavy Bomber; the Consolidated B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft” Heavy Bomber; and the North American P-51 Mustang fighter. The “extremely rare” aircraft will fly into the airport and be on display July 15-18.
WWII veteran Al Chambard of New Ulm served in the Navy on the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific oceans. “I was there through the surrender,” Chambard said of his service.
Chambard didn't have much to do with aircraft during the war. But Wings of Freedom still sounds appealing, he said.
“I'm interested in seeing those planes,” he said.
According to a news release from Wings of Freedom, “This is a rare opportunity to visit, explore and learn more about these unique and rare treasures of aviation history.”
The B-24 and P-51 are the only remaining examples of their kind still flying in the world. The B-17 is one of only eight still in flying condition in the U.S.
The bombers were the “backbone of the American effort” from 1942-45 and were known for their ability to sustain damage and still accomplish the missions. The P-51 was affectionately known as the bombers' “little friend,” and saved countless crews from attacking axis fighters.
Following WWII, many aircraft were scrapped for raw aluminum to help rebuild the nation in post-war prosperity. Few were spared.
“They scrapped a lot of them,” Chambard said. “And they scrapped my ship too.”
The tour is a flying tribute to the flight crews who flew the planes, the ground crews who maintained them, the workers who built them, and the servicemen who helped protect them.
Visitors to the exhibit can explore the aircraft inside and out, and the tours are free to World War II veterans.
Those willing to foot the cost can take a 30-minute flight aboard the planes. Flights on the B-17 or B-24 are $425; and P-51 flights are $2,200 for 30 minutes and $3,200 for an hour.
The Wings of Freedom Tour is in its 24th year and visits an average of 110 cities in more than 35 states each year. Tens of millions of people have seen the aircraft since the tour began.
The Collings Foundation is a nonprofit educational foundation dedicated to organizing “living history” events that allow people to learn about their heritage through hands-on experiences.