CARLSBAD – A streak of light shone through the clouds, hitting off of the silvery finish of the fuselage of a P-51 Mustang as it raced across the sky; the roar of its Merlin engine capturing the attentions of aircraft enthusiasts on the ground.
Almost 70 years after the end of World War II, some of the most iconic planes of that era still have the power to draw a crowd and elicit a fascination from people of all ages.
Kids and adults touched the planes that were parked just off the runway, including a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-24 Liberator and the P-51C Mustang during the three day exhibit.
Bill Watson, a self-described “brown water sailor” brought two of his three grandchildren to McClellan-Palomar Airport to see the planes, part of the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom tour.
A swift boat veteran of the Vietnam War, Watson thought it was important to bring his grandchildren, Grant, 10, and Katrina, 12, so they could get an idea of the planes that flew during World War II.
Watson’s father was a Pearl Harbor survivor, he said, adding that his father’s ship, the Tennessee, was moored right in front of the USS Arizona.
“My grandkids don’t fully understand it,” Watson said. “I hope to pass on a little bit of this stuff so that there’s going to be some understanding down the road.”
“What history,” he added. “How long are we going to have those people with us?”
The foundation has been touring these aircraft for 25 years.
On average, the foundation tours about 110 cities in 38 states, said Jim Farley, a pilot for the Collings Foundation.
Out of 18,000 B-24s that were built, theirs is the only one still flying. The B-17 is one of just six that still flies, and the P-51C Mustang is the only dual control model ever, Farley explained.
“We’re trying to tell the story of World War II and keep it going for the veterans that are still with us and the families of veterans and younger generations, just so we don’t forget,” Farley said.
John “Richard” Yoder was a B-17 pilot in his early 20s when he flew with the 8th Air Force stationed in England and southeastern Europe.
The plane, he said, was a beautiful airplane. “It just handled very delicately…It doesn’t flop around and so you could fly extremely tight formations, which was a safety feature because you could concentrate the guns.”
He completed 13 missions, which he would only describe as “unusual missions.”
Yoder said it was a nostalgic to see these planes here.
“Any one mission your chances of coming back were way bigger than 50 percent. We were young and didn’t think ahead too much,” he said.
Earl H. Breiner served as a right waist gunner on a B-17, completing 27 missions over Italy with the 15th Air Force from 1944 to 1945; he was 20 years old at the time.
He knew what their odds were each time he took to the skies. In one year, his squadron lost 20,570 men and 2,057 heavy bombers. “You just got your odds,” he said.
He told of a time when his plane’s oxygen system got shot out, and showed news clippings detailing the one and only time his plane crashed landed on Oct. 17, 1944.
“It’s real good,” he said of seeing that flying fortress in front of him. But was he up for taking flight once again?
“No,” Breiner said, almost before the question could be finished. “No way,” he added.
For his service, Breiner was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.