One last look offered today of WW II planes at Livermore Airport

Hundreds turn out for Memorial Day weekend show

Two World War II bombers -- a B-17 Flying Fortress known as the 909 and a B-24 Liberator named Witchcraft -- are at the Livermore Airport today for one last look before flying off to other shows.

The planes, along with a support plane, a P-51C Mustang fighter called Betty Jane, are on display today from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is the 18th year the planes stopped in Livermore.

Called the "Wings of Freedom" tour, the three planes are a flying museum and tribute to the crews who flew and maintained them and the people who built them.

Stop coordinator Kevin Ryan said his favorite part of the planes' local stop is hearing the experiences of the veterans who flew in the planes, and their family's reaction to the stories.

Mick Hanou, another coordinator, said his father was in forced labor in Germany during the war, so the Memorial Day event has special meaning to him.

"It's the people who keep us coming out," he said. "The other thing that's important is that we do this for the veterans."

The planes have been open for tours over the weekend, and will be again today. A look inside gives a visitor a first-hand idea of the conditions bomber crews endured on a mission.

Walter Hughes, who now lives in Hawaii, was just 22 years old when he piloted a B-24 in World War II. He flew 35 missions during the war and ise on hand to talk about what it was like. Hughes said every mission was different.

"There were a few that we didn't have much opposition, they were called 'milk runs.' You'd see a little flack and nothing more. Then you'd get to some where there were 600 to 900 antiaircraft guns," he said, adding that planes often had to fly into clouds created by exploding shells. "The flack, that's pretty scary stuff. We had holes in the airplane on more than half the missions we flew."

The cold at altitudes of 21,000 feet was also a major factor.

"My average temperature was minus 40 on those missions. Sometimes, the equipment on the airplanes would freeze," he said. Although the crew wore heated suits, sometimes it was cold enough to affect the steering; other times, the bomb bay doors would freeze up.

At first, there were no fighters that could fly alongside the bombers on their long missions to drop their payloads of three to four tons of bombs over Germany. That meant they were on their own for much of the flight, and 75 percent of bombers were shot down.

Later, P-51s like the fighter that will accompany the two bombers this weekend started flying with them, and that dropped the casualty rate to 40 percent. During his 35 missions, just one of Hughes' crew was killed and only three were wounded.

Fear was an everyday event, but Hughes said "You just got through it."

In addition to seeing the touring planes and hearing veterans like Hughes, visitors will be able to see some locally based planes and military vehicles, along with historical photos and World War II memorabilia.

The tours are $12 for adults and $6 for children under 12.

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Like this comment
Posted by Dad flew over Nazi Germany
a resident of Livermore
on Jun 1, 2010 at 10:18 am

What happened to the B26?

Just saw the movie, the Great Raid, about US rescue of US soldiers captured by the Japanese in the Phillipines. These are the men who survived the Bataan Death march.
The Japanese are also remembered for their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
If much of what they showed in the movie is true about how they treated POWs and the Phillipine citizens,
then it is a shame we didn't have more atomic bombs for their island.
The good news it that it made them surrender.
The bad news is they now manufacture cars and most everything else.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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