Thursday, July 19, 2007

Warbirds

Our local airport is home to many small private aircraft, corporate jets and my favorite, warbirds. Last week I drove past and saw this little beauty parked outside. It reminds me of of an airworthy version of the classic Caroll Shelby Ford AC Cobra.Thought that readers of LITGM may appreciate it.
The Valpraiso Municipal Airport is only a few miles from the confines of my country bunker. On summer weekends it is not unusual to hear the growl of a vintage radial engine powered aircraft pulling a loop overhead. That sound always draws me outside to look for the source. It is rewarding to see a vintage warbird doing a barrel roll or even a squadron of them blowing by which happens often this time of year.

This airport is home to the The Indiana Aviation Museum. These folks have an array of vintage warbirds. They have a Steerman Bi-Plane, A Vought F4U Corsair, A P-51 Mustang and others. The IAM facilities draw other warbirds on route to airshow destinations throughout the summer. All the IAM planes fly and they offer rides in them to the general public. For a price.

The P-51 is a real thrill just to look at. It has been given credit for our final air superiority during WWII in Europe.

To see this bird in person just loads my pants every time. This silvery, sleek weapon of death is powered by a 12-cylinder Rolls-Royce power plant that can reach speeds approaching 450mph. Incredible in its day. Six 50cal. wing mounted machine guns give me the chills.

About six years ago a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of historic aircraft flew into the Valparaiso airport for a weekend exhibit on their nationwide tour. The Collings Foundation restores and flies many vintage aircraft but the B-17, B-24 and now the B-25 bombers attract attention wherever they go. They show up at the Valpo airport every year for a four-day exhibit.

To offset this huge expense they charged the public $5. for a tour of the grounded planes and $350. for a one hour flight. Being a real sucker for flying I paid the price for my once-in-a-lifetime adventure. How often does one get the opportunity to fly in an authentic B-17 bomber? It was worth every penny. (Photo credit: The Collings Foundation)

My problem was, after we climbed to 2000 feet, I realized my old digital camera was out of power so I enjoyed the ride without any photographic evidence of the journey. It does not matter, the memories live on. Sitting in the clear bombardier’s nose-cone seat flying over the U.S. Steel plant in Gary IN made my decade. That mill could have been a ball-bearing factory near Hamburg for all I knew. I was so stoked.

From the air I could see cars stopping along the roads and people pointing up at us. Flying along the Lake Michigan shore near the Indiana Dunes you could see people waving from boats and on shore.

The plane was a lot smaller inside than I imagined. They strapped us (twelve passengers) to small wooden planks on the floor of the waist section for takeoff and landing but once airborne we were allowed to walk about the entire plane. There was a narrow catwalk that joined the front fuselage to the waist section through the bomb bay. The guns were authentic but inoperable. The tail section was off-limits because a tail gunner was cut off from the rest of the plane due to the retractable rear-landing wheel mechanism.

The Collings Foundation will be back here in a few weeks. This time they are bringing along a B-25 Mitchell Bomber. IF I can I will get a seat with a full charge on the camera.

This P-51 has two seats and the owner/pilot will take you up for a series of barrel-rolls, loops, dives and a strafing run on left-lane blockers slowing traffic flow on I-80 (just kidding) for $1000. Bring your own barf bag.

Any takers?

2 comments:

Dan from Madison said...

I would gladly pay those prices for those rides. That P-51 is kickass - you have to take a ride in the Mitchell when it comes. I love reading about those things doing "skip bombing" on the Japanese in the Pacific - that is some seriously insane stuff.

gerry from valpo said...

This year the Collings aircraft make their local visit during the week so I don't know if my schedule vs. theirs will permit a flight for me but it is a priority.

You will definitely see coverage and some ground shots posted for sure!

Just love that B-25! The blame rests with Van Johnson and Spencer Tracy.

Thirty Seconds Over Chicago would be a blast!