Dozens of World War II veterans who flew missions aboard or maintained the B-17 and the B-24 bombers were asked to be at Akron-Canton Airport on Friday afternoon for the arrival of the “Wings of Freedom” planes.
“I got 480 hours in one of these things,” said World War II bomber co-pilot Dearly Samson, of Louisville, looking at the B-17G bomber “Nine O Nine” at MAPS Air Museum on Friday.
“Got shot down over Budapest, Hungary, after 37 missions. Got hit with flack,” he said, then paused long enough to hold out a sheet of official-looking paper. “Ever see one of these?” he asked, displaying verification that he spent time in a German prisoner-of-war camp.
“Oh, you were in the ‘caterpillar club,’ joked Robert Fox, of Massillon, referring to the “club” of flight crewmen forced to jump with silk parachutes from a damaged bomber to avoid crashing with it.
“No initiation fees, no membership dues,” answered Samson with a smile.
Fox also flew aboard a bomber “a long time ago,” and he produced a wallet-sized “war-weary” picture of himself posed in the 1940s in front of a B-17. “I was a gunner,” he said. “Right waist gun, ’43 to ’45.”
The two were gathered with dozens of other World War II veterans who flew missions aboard or maintained the B-17 and the B-24 bombers. Among the others was Irv Kopelson of Canton, who was a member of a ground crew assigned to two B-24s in England during the war.
“I took care of the machine guns and the bomb racks,” he explained. “I made sure they worked.”
Both of the warplanes are visiting MAPS through Monday, brought with a P-51 fighter plane by Collings Foundation for a stop on its “Wings of Freedom” tour. The former members of flight and ground crews were asked to be at Akron-Canton Airport on Friday afternoon for the arrival of the “Wings of Freedom” planes, then to pose for a group picture.
In that photograph are Clair Alexander and Ralph Lynn, both B-24 pilots during World War II. Lynn, of Perry Township, flew aboard the B-24 on Friday to take pictures for MAPS during a short media flight.
“This B-24 is the only combat B-24 that still is flying today,” noted Lynn, who flew 32 missions out of England during World War II.
During Friday’s flight, the plane was piloted by Jim Harley of Akron, who travels with the World War II planes on their nationwide tour. In the co-pilot’s seat was Rob Collings, whose parents started the Collings Foundation and the “Wings of Flight” bomber tour in 1989 to make the bombers more accessible.
“If you put the planes in a museum, thousands of people can see them,” explained Collings. “If you take them on tour, millions of people have a chance to see them.”
Page 2 of 2 - Those who visit MAPS this weekend also can make a donation toward the maintenance of the bombers for the opportunity to board the planes and even fly aboard them.
“It’s an opportunity to come out and see these airplanes and talk to some of the veterans who flew them,” said Wayne Noall, the MAPS director in charge of the “Wings of Freedom” event. “Those men have such interesting stories to tell.”
See the warplanes
WHAT “Wings of Freedom” World War II warplane exhibit and flight experience, including B-17G and B-24J bombers and a P-51C fighter plane.
WHEN 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Sunday and 9 a.m. to noon Monday. Flights are scheduled before and after tour times.
WHERE MAPS Air Museum at 2260 International Parkway (off state Route 241, west of Akron-Canton Airport).
WHO Collings Foundation and MAPS Air Museum.
WHY To increase awareness of the aircraft, to honor those who flew and maintained them, and to raise funds for aircraft restoration done by the Foundation and Museum.
HOW MUCH, HOW TO Donation to examine the P-51C and to board the B-17G “Nine O Nine” and B-24J “Witchcraft” is $12 for adults and $6 for children younger than 12. Flight costs (30-minute flight experience) are $425 per person for the B-24 and B-17. Flight training in the P-51 costs $2,200 for 30 minutes and $3,500 for an hour.
DETAILS Call MAPS Air Museum at (330) 896-06332 or visit www.mapsairmuseum.org.