SARASOTA - Aircraft history landed on the Suncoast Wednesday, as the Wings of Freedom Tour brought three warbirds to the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
Two World War II bombers -- a B-17 Flying Fortress and a B-24 Liberator -- and the most dominant fighter plane of the second world war, the P-51 Mustang are all on display.
Organizers of the tour say these planes are not just cool to look at, they also help keep the legacy of the brave men who once flew them alive. “World War II veterans are slowly passing and we're not seeing as many as we used to. But we do it for them, and we make sure that as long as they’re around, we’re going to remember and honor them,” says Chief Pilot Jim Harley.
Ernest Cave knows the B-24 inside and out. “I flew the nose, I flew the waste gun, the windows, and I flew the top.” And with 50 missions under his belt, he says he still remembers how cold it was working the waste gun. “It was sixty degrees below zero up there. We had electric suits that we wore to keep warm, but if you shorted them out you got cold.” And he remembers how it felt to face the enemy head on. “Scary as hell.”
Ernest is, of course, a World War II Vet. His son surprised him Thursday morning with a trip to the Wings of Freedom Tour. He flew those 50 missions out of Italy. “There were a couple times, well quite a few times, we had the Tuskegee Airmen with us. Then we had another one with checker board tails, just like ours, and they stayed with us. Pretty nice. It felt good to have somebody along with you.”
The missions, Ernest says, were all rough. “We used to come back from the mission and be full of holes, 156 holes, something like that, 170 holes, and they'd patch ‘em all up again, and next day you would go again.” And he says firing the guns and dropping the bombs from thousands of feet in the air presented its own challenges. “When we dropped the bombs, the airplane would rise. It felt like you got light.”
The planes will be on display at Rectrix Aviation on 15th Street East at the airport until Friday.
Visitors are invited to explore the aircraft inside and out - $12 for adults and $6 for children under 12 is requested for access to up-close viewing and tours through the inside of the aircraft. WWII Veterans can tour through the aircraft at no cost.