History buffs get a warbird’s eye view of NC

Pilot Carol Riese, of Wisconsin, controls the world's only flying B-24J Liberator as it flies over downtown Raleigh during the Wings of Freedom Tour at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, October 19, 2017. Hosted by the Collings Foundation, Wings of Freedom visits more than 100 cities a year to show off working pieces of American war history as well as to educate people about the veterans of WWII. The tour will be in Burlington, NC until 12 pm on Oct. 25 and then move to Statesville, NC through Oct. 27. (Eamon Queeney / North State Journal)

MORRISVILLE — History is roaring over N.C. this week as the Wings of Freedom tour of World War II aircraft touches down in communities across the state. Last week Raleigh-Durham International Airport hosted the aircrafts and this week they will take history buffs on tours over Burlington. WWII bombers and fighters visit Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport, including the rare B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell and TF-51D Mustang.

The Morrisville stop was the first in N.C. in more than 20 years. It gave people a chance to see the aircraft up close, but also a chance for a once-in-a-lifetime flight experience on the bombers. Some even took the controls with flight training on the TF-51, a common first flight training aircraft.

The N.C. Department of Transportation held a ceremony welcoming the tour to its aviation office and hangar at RDU. The tour is led by Collins Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and touring the nation’s living transportation history, but also honoring American veterans. In 26 years, the tour has made more than 2,900 visits to airports across the mainland United States and Alaska.

“These aircraft travel the nation as a flying tribute to the flight crews who flew them, the ground crews who maintained them, the workers who built them, the soldiers, sailors and airmen who helped protect them; and the citizens and families whose freedom they helped preserve,” said Collins Foundation spokesperson Hunter Chaney.

The organization charges for visiting and flying the planes as one way to keep the birds in the air, and the flights aren’t cheap. If visitors want to take to the air it costs $400 for a ride in a B-25, $450 for flying in a B-17 and up to $3,200 to pilot a T-51. If visitors aren’t interested in leaving the ground, walk-through tours are available at $15 for adults and $5 for kids.

In addition to tours, the foundation is building The American Heritage Museum in Hudson, Mass., due to open in late 2018. When complete, the museum will feature more than 85 unique and rare tanks, vehicles and artillery from throughout history and around the world. The organization says they are building displays within the museum that tell stories of personal courage and sacrifice, and include rare artifacts showing how the defense of freedom has been shaped by “an evolving global consciousness, technological, social, economic and political changes over time, particularly over the last 100 years.”

However, the Wings of Freedom Tour is still their biggest event, hitting more than 100 cities and half of all states each year. Between 3.5 and 4 million people see these warbirds annually. Following the N.C. stops, the tour heads to Statesville, Ga.