Two planes that played an important role in the American effort during World War II, a B-17 and a B-24, were flown in and put on display for walk through tours at the Wings Over Miami Air Museum, Feb. 5-7.
The aircraft, part of a “living history” fleet of planes that are maintained and operated by the Collings Foundation, were accompanied by a smaller plane, a P-51 trainer, adding to the aircraft that are normally on display at the museum.
Visitors ranging from older military veterans to young children came to see the aircraft first hand and learn more about them and the men who flew them.
Mac McCauley, a pilot and volunteer with the Collings Foundation, is grateful for the chance to be a part of the tour. He has been doing it now for 16 years.
“This is a wonderful piece of history that’s starting to disappear, along with the people that actually flew them,” McCauley said. “It’s an opportunity for me personally to fly around the country in this airplane and meet some of these people and it’s really a great honor. That’s why I do it. Fortunately we have enough spare parts to keep us going for awhile. We’ll be in the air for as long as people are interested.”
Ryan Keough is a Collings Foundation volunteer as well. He is the ride coordinator who makes the arrangements for those who wish to take a flight on one of the planes. He also enjoys traveling from city to city.
“I think one of the best things about it that the airplanes have a special magic,” Keough said. “They’re fantastic; they’re beautiful in the skies. But the best part of it is how much they are a catalyst for our veterans and their families when they come out.
“Hearing the stories that veterans are sharing with their families, sometimes for the first time, about flying onboard as crewmembers on these aircraft, or just being part of WWII and knowing about B- 17s or hearing about the guys that were going to be on top of them while they were fighting in the dirt, knowing they were going to attack the enemy from the other side so there would be fewer tanks and bombs coming after them,” he added.
“So really the veterans are the reason why we’ve done this for 25 years. They’re the reason why all of us continue to do this voluntarily every year, for 300 days a year and over 110 cities around the country.” Suzette Rice, president of Wings Over Miami, is happy to work with the group when they are able to visit.
“A relationship with a flying museum like the Collings Foundation is important because our planes fly and we hangar them here, but they fly the big birds,” Rice said. “Instead of a hangar they have a flying museum, and we have a museum that flies.
“By bringing them into our ramp it allows the people of Miami to actually see, touch and smell aircraft that fly. If you go to a museum that doesn’t fly, it’s pristine. Wings itself is an active museum. All of the aircraft you see here fly. We’re a living, breathing museum.”
Rice said that the Collings Foundation does the things that her museum can’t.
“We could never afford to have a big series of bombers like they have,” she said. “We have a big number of World War Two vets who have been through here this week, and those planes are really important to those guys. It’s a great community experience.
“We all take our flying pretty seriously. It keeps the stories alive and as long as we have the pilots who flew them and the mechanics who worked on them alive, we have the opportunity to share those stories with our kids.”
The Collings Foundation website is www.collingsfoundation.org.