Paso Robles man takes flight aboard WWII aircraft
Collings Foundation brings Wings of Freedom Tour to select cities across the U.S.
When the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour touched down at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport last week, Paso Robles resident Ron Friberg experienced what he says ranks right up there with one of his all-time most memorable moments – a ride aboard a historical WWII P-51C Mustang airplane.
“It was the opportunity of a lifetime and something that I never dreamed would be possible for me to experience,” said Friberg of his time in the air.
With Chief Pilot Jim Harley in the front seat of the fully-restored P-51C Mustang, Friberg climbed into the back of the dual-control airplane and soared above the outlying areas of SLO on a scenic tour of sights such as Morro Rock. Friberg’s flight was a gift from his daughter, Erica, an air traffic controller based in Santa Barbara who is currently in the process of obtaining her pilot license.
“Erica has been fascinated by aircraft and flying for many years,” said Friberg. “When she arranged for me to take a flight with the Collings Foundation it was a dream come true.”
Although he denied feeling nervous climbing into the plane before takeoff, Friberg admitted that he had a couple of thoughts running through his mind.
“My main concerns? At 6’4” I wondered if I would be too tall to fit and whether I would get airsick if the pilot decided to do loops midair. Luckily, I fit – barely – and my stomach cooperated,” said Friberg. “The flight and my experience with such a fantastic pilot is something that I will never forget – it was a special day.”
Harley has been working with the Collings Foundation since early 2003. He said the annual 10-month Wings of Freedom Tour brings the historical planes to about 38 cities across the United States. There was a great turnout at the SLO event, he said. The foundation typically alternates its SLO tour stop with Paso Robles, with the Estrella Warbird Museum set to host the local tour in May 2016.
“By definition, the Collings Foundation is an educational foundation,” said Harley. “Our goal is to educate current and younger generations about the Greatest Generation and the veterans of WWII. The aircraft we bring are our primary planes and they are the iconic planes of WWII – the B17, B24 and P-51. We want to make sure that history is perpetuated and that the veterans that we still have with us have a venue in which they may show their families what they did during the war.”
Harley said there are very few of these airplanes still around and those that pay to take a tour help support the planes and pay for the gas it takes to fly the historical birds from town to town. The Foundation encourages people to tour the planes, talk to the veterans who come to visit the aircraft, and participate in a fee-based flight experience. A one-hour flight aboard the P-51, he said, burns about 60 gallons of fuel; at $5-6 per gallon for gas in California, it’s easy to figure out that a flight can really add up.
“Everyone loves to see the planes up close and crawl through them,” said Harley. “With all of the upkeep and renovations that are needed for the planes, the tour fees help defray our costs.”
Iconic WWII aircraft
Information on the foundation’s website reveals that its “1944 vintage Consolidated B-24J Liberator, painted as Witchcraft, is an 8th Air Force bomber that flew a record 130 missions over Europe as part of the 467th BG. The Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress, Nine-O-Nine, is an 8th Air Force, 91st BG heavy bomber. The B-17 was the companion of the B-24 in thousands of wartime, bombing, and reconnaissance missions. Together they were the backbone of the daylight strategic bombing campaign of WWII.”
The bombers are accompanied by the P-51C Mustang escort fighter Betty Jane. The P-51, the site explains, “was affectionately nicknamed by the bomber crews as their ‘Little Friends.’ The P-51 Mustang and the pilots who flew them saved countless lives in the skies and on the ground, and helped turn the tide of WWII. The P-51 is arguably the finest fighter aircraft in the history of aviation.”
When not on tour, the iconic airplanes are housed in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, just south of Daytona, with American Aero Services taking care of their continued maintenance, according to Harley.
More about the Collings Foundation
The Collings Foundation is a non-profit Educational Foundation (501c-3) founded in 1979 and headquartered in Massachusetts. The purpose of the Foundation is to organize and support “living history” events that enable Americans to learn more about their heritage through direct participation. Since 1989, a major focus of the Foundation has been the Wings of Freedom Tour of WWII aircraft. This tour showcases two fully restored bomber aircraft: a B-24 Liberator and B-17 Flying Fortress. The newest addition to the Wings of Freedom Tour is a WWII P-51C Mustang dual-control fighter aircraft.
The Wings of Freedom Tour has two goals: to honor the sacrifices made by our veterans that allow us to enjoy our freedom; and to educate the visitors, especially younger Americans, about our national history and heritage. With more than 2,900 visits to airports across the United States and Alaska, the Foundation estimates that over 3.5 million people see these fully restored historic aircraft annually. For more information, including current tour schedule, go to www.collingsfoundation.org.
Source: Collings Foundation