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updated: 8/2/2016 4:15 PM

Wings of Freedom Tour offers chance to fly in WWII planes

Wings of Freedom Tour offers chance to fly in WWII planes

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  • Video: B-17 Bucket List Ride

  • In his dad's flight jacket and hat, Chuck Currie of Prospect Heights prepares to take a spin in a vintage B-17 Flying Fortress -- giving him some idea of what it was like for his father during World War II.

      In his dad's flight jacket and hat, Chuck Currie of Prospect Heights prepares to take a spin in a vintage B-17 Flying Fortress -- giving him some idea of what it was like for his father during World War II.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • The vintage B-17 Flying Fortress stopped at Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling on Monday.

      The vintage B-17 Flying Fortress stopped at Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling on Monday.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • The World War II vintage Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress looms large on the tarmac at Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling.

      The World War II vintage Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress looms large on the tarmac at Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Ken Zschach, 93, of Mount Prospect flew in a B-24 as a waist gunner during the war. Here he stands with the North American B-25 Mitchell "Tondelayo" bomber.

      Ken Zschach, 93, of Mount Prospect flew in a B-24 as a waist gunner during the war. Here he stands with the North American B-25 Mitchell "Tondelayo" bomber.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Rich Pytka of Crystal Lake takes a picture of the North American B-25 Mitchell "Tondelayo" bomber.

      Rich Pytka of Crystal Lake takes a picture of the North American B-25 Mitchell "Tondelayo" bomber.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • A P-51C Mustang also is part of the Wings of Freedom Tour at Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling.

      A P-51C Mustang also is part of the Wings of Freedom Tour at Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Seeing a vintage Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was a thrill for Nathaniel Matusik, 5, and his dad, Matthew, of Morton Grove who squeezed through the bomb compartment Monday at Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling.

      Seeing a vintage Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was a thrill for Nathaniel Matusik, 5, and his dad, Matthew, of Morton Grove who squeezed through the bomb compartment Monday at Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • The P-51C Mustang streaks through the sky as part of the Wings of Freedom Tour that flew into Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling on Monday.

      The P-51C Mustang streaks through the sky as part of the Wings of Freedom Tour that flew into Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling on Monday.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

Chuck Currie's dad, Lt. Charles P. Currie, flew a B-17 Flying Fortress during World War II.

On Monday, for the first time in his life, Chuck got some idea of what that was like.

The Prospect Heights resident, wearing his dad's cap and flight jacket, climbed aboard the B-17 Flying Fortress "Nine-O-Nine," and up he went into the blue sky over Wheeling.

The flight was made possible by the Collings Foundation's Wings of Freedom Tour that landed at Chicago Executive Airport Monday morning. The foundation cares for vintage war planes -- the "Nine O Nine," the B-25 Mitchell "Tondelayo" bomber and the P-51C Mustang "Betty Jane" fighter -- and tours with them across the country.

Children, families and veterans stood pressed against a fence surrounding the runway where the three World War II planes were parked. As the sun beat down, reflecting off the shiny P-51C Mustang, the fence opened and people eagerly gathered around the aircraft, talking to pilots and the crew.

A line to go inside the B-17 quickly formed on the runway, and parents helped their children climb a ladder toward the front of the plane.The Wings of Freedom Tour will be at Chicago Executive Airport through Friday, Aug. 5.

Currie, meanwhile, said being up in the air in the B-17 was "absolutely amazing."

"We got to experience what those guys went through," he said. "They never really talked about it much."

Cliff Atkins, 37, of Birmingham, Alabama, pilots the P-51C Mustang. Atkins is a second-generation pilot and was raised with a keen awareness of planes. He's been with the Collings Foundation for about five years and says it's fun to share the experience of riding in the plane with passengers.

"The reaction at the end of the ride is always the same," Atkins said. "I've taken hundreds and hundreds of people up, and they all say it was worth it."

While it wasn't used in combat, the "Betty Jane" is the only working P-51C Mustang left. The plane's restoration was completed in 2004, and it has a maximum speed of 500 miles per hour. It is also capable of reaching an altitude of 41,000 feet, though it usually hovers between 6,000 and 8,000 feet.

Prospect Heights resident Paul Fischer was a crew chief in the Army Air Corps. He came to Chicago Executive Airport Monday to look at the aircraft and snap some photos.

"It's great to see people out there restoring them and keeping them flying," Fischer said. "They're pieces of history."

Visitors can explore the aircraft, and tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children under 12.

If you want to go up, a 30-minute flight on the B-17 or B-24 is $450 per person; it's $400 for the B-25. A training flight on the P-15 is $2,200 for 30 minutes and $3,200 for an hour.

Call (978) 562-9182 for flight reservations.

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