Gainesville Daily Register

Features

March 13, 2013

'Wings of Freedom' features vintage aircraft, exhibits

Denison — DENISON — An upcoming tour will cater to local interest in military aircraft of bygone eras.

The annual “Wings of Freedom” exhibit, set for March 18-20 at North Texas Regional Airport in Denison, not only allows visitors close inspections of the famed P-51, B-17 and B-24 bomber planes — but for a fee, they can take rides in them.

“The aviation pilots love this,” Lake Texoma Jet Center official Jana Bishop said about the exhibit of planes. “They’re in awe that they’re still flying and that they still have their original pieces to them. Some of these planes date to the 1930s, and it’s always a joy for our older pilots to see them still flying today.”

The tour exhibit ranges in price between $6 and $12 and the actual plane rides come much costlier at charges between $425 and $3,200. But Lake Texoma Jet Center Director Mike Shahan admitted that during the 2012 tour, some visitors paid those prices.

“I was surprised at the number of people taking the rides,” he said. “They booked quite a few.”

Other scheduled aircraft include the Me 262 jet and UH-iE Huey helicopter. Shahan said the tour, presented in select airports nationwide by the Collings Foundation, was successful enough during its debut in 2012 that Denison could host another.

“It’s big airplanes with big radial engines,” he said. “They sound good and they smell good. And we have a large population of veterans in this area. Last year, we had several people who flew on the B-17 bombers and now they come out and see them.”

The local spotlight on such aircraft, he said, makes an appropriate tribute to veterans.

“That’s the Greatest Generation and the whole point, I think, to the Collings Foundation is that they help us remember that generation and what they did for us,” Shahan said.

Full-scale vintage aircraft exhibits get seasonal attention in Cooke and Grayson counties, with the Festival of Flight conducted at Gainesville Municipal Airport during the fall months. But the audiences for them tend to be older — and as a private interest, plane ownership appears to be a hobby in the minority.

“I don’t think interest in aviation is dying out,” Shahan said. “But I don’t think as many people are in it right now because of fuel costs.”

But Shahan also cited Federal Aviation Administration statistics indicating that more career pilots will be needed during the next two decades than ever before.

“Hopefully, people will get in there and learn to fly and we’ll have more pilots in the future,” he said.

Locally, the Wings of Freedom tour is also set for March 25-27 at Denton Municipal Airport.

Tour details (courtesy of the Collings Foundation website):

• “Flight Experiences” fees are $425 per person aboard the B-17 or B-24.

• The B-25 will also be available at select locations for flight experiences. Flight experiences on the B-25 are $400 for forward fuselage seats, and $325 for waist gun seats.

• And flight training in the TP-51C "Betty Jane" will be at most locations on the Wings of Freedom Tour. Flight training in the P-51 is $2,200 for a half-hour flight, and $3,200 for a full hour — giving participants a chance to feel what it was like to fly one of the most legendary fighters of World War II.

• Walk-through tours of the aircraft are $12 for adults and $6 for children ages 12 and under for access to all of the aircraft. World War II veterans get into the ground tours at no charge.

For more information, call (800) 568-8924 or visit www.cfdn.org.

 

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