GREEN  The recent Collings Foundation "Wings of Freedom" Airshow at the Military Aviation Preservation Society (MAPS) Museum in Green drew record crowds for the three day event.

The annual airshow featured four famous World War II-era planes that were on display and also available for rides. These included a P-51 "Mustang" fighter, and a B-17 "Flying Fortress," a B-24 "Liberator," and a B-25 "Mitchell" bomber. Joining them on the runway was MAPS' B-26 "Marauder," another World War II bomber that the museum is restoring. The B-26 normally is kept inside the hangar, but on this weekend it joined the other planes in a rare display of historical aircraft.

According to a Collings Foundation spokesperson, the group a total of 40 flights during the show. Unfortunately, the B-17 experienced an engine malfunction on the second afternoon and was unable to fly the rest of the event. The plane was able to depart in the middle of the following week after the necessary parts to repair the engine arrived and were installed. 

"This was the largest crowd we have had since I have been here, " said MAPS Director Kim Kovesci. "We really had beautiful weather for the whole weekend."

"I was a little concerned on Friday and early Saturday morning," added MAPS President Bob Schwartz. "It was a little overcast and rainy but it cleared up and we had great weather for an airshow. There was a nice breeze. It wasn't too hot and the skies were pretty clear-perfect airshow weather."

Besides the bombers on display, people could visit the "Gallery of Heroes" and look at the more than 40 static aircraft on display, the Vietnam MASH tent, plus the numerous exhibits in the display cases. Tour guides were there to answer any questions. In addition, there was also a raffle for an original print of B-24's taking off from an English airfield, created by local artist Ed Davis, who had his work on display. Youngster Donovan Noah pulled the winning ticket out of a jar and the lucky winner was Jim Arnett, who had just joined MAPS.

One of the most satisfied visitors was 83-year-old Joe Piscazzi, of Cuyahoga Falls, who took a half hour flight in the P-51 "Mustang." Piscazzi builds and flies model airplanes but had never flown in a military aircraft like the P-51. His original morning flight was canceled due to fog, but it was moved back to the afternoon. While visiting the "Gallery of Heroes," he asked a MAPS tour guide if maybe he should cancel his ride.

"Heck, no," said the guide, "that is the ride of a lifetime."

Piscazzi dutifully reported to the P-51 in the afternoon for his flight. The pilot was not around, and he got a little nervous, but the grounds crew and his family was to offer encouragment in the form of jokes such as, "isn't that the pilot with the white cane and seeing eye dog?" Or "Isn't that him over there with a martini in his hand!" Piscazzi took the ribbing in stride and pilot Brian Norris eventually arrived, no cane or martini in hand, and proceeded to explain to Piscazzi about the P-51 and helped him climb onto the wing and get settled into the cockpit. Once they were both strapped in, they were off with a roar and a big "thumbs up" from Piscazzi.

"When the P-51 came out in 1942, I was 9 years old," Piscazzi said. "In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would ever fly one. My opportunity at MAPS was once in a lifetime."

The next half hour was a great experience for Piscazzi as Norris let him take the stick and fly the plane, even doing a loop and a roll.

My pilot (Norris) was great," Piscazzi said. "I did loops and barrel rolls on my own. My adrenaline was so high after the flight it took me two days to come down.  I am now a small percentage of people in the world to fly this magnificent fighter plane. I feel blessed. This really emptied my bucket list. I cant express in words the thrill I experienced. I now have bragging rights for life."

"He really was a great passenger," added Norris. "He was very respectful and not demanding, something that I find typical in people his age. They are really nice to take up and give them this incredible experience of a lifetime. When we landed he had the biggest smile on his face."

"He has been talking about the flight ever since  he landed," said his sister-in-law, Barbara Ramlow. "Joe had a wonderful time, he referred to it as a once in a lifetime experience. He still has a smile on his face about the flight."