This is an Airborne Coming Events Advisory for the Western United States.
Residents of California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado are advised to keep a few open dates on their calendars and an eye on the sky. During the weeks ahead, several vintage warbirds will traverse the region as part of the Collings Foundation's 2007 Wings of Freedom Tour. As part of this flying history show, the foundation will bring three immaculately-restored World War II bomber aircraft -- a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, a Consolidated B-24 Liberator, and a North American B-25 Mitchell -- to airports near major population centers throughout the Western states.
At each stop, locals will have the opportunity not only to see these aircraft, but to climb around inside, watch a few take-offs and landings, or even go for 30 minute flights high above the homes of envious friends and neighbors.
Here's how it works: First, take a look at the Collings Foundation's 2007 schedule to see if and when the aircraft will come to an airport near you. For example, this week, from May 16 through May 22, the planes will be in Silicon Valley, at the Moffett Federal Airfield. Later this month they will stop in the California towns of Lincoln, Sacramento, Livermore, Napa, and Concord, before continuing on to the Pacific Northwest.
If the aircraft are in your local airspace, you have four viewing options:
1) Go for a 30-minute Flight: We've raved about this experience before, and we still stand by every gushing word. Though the phrase "memories that will last forever" is widely abused, a flight aboard one of the Collings Foundation's aircraft is the gen-u-ine article. There is simply nothing like staring down at the ground from the vantage point of a clear plexiglass nose cone. Moreover, in the Thrill of a Lifetime price bracket, the cost of this experience is modest; just $450 for a flight in the B-17 or B-24, or as little as $325 for a ride in the B-25. Even better, your donation is fully tax deductible.
2) Tour the Aircraft on the Ground: Between flights, the Collings aircraft are open for tours on the tarmac (in exchange for a small donation). This too is worthwhile, as it's stunning to observe how much these Axis-smashing aircraft resemble the aluminum Budwiser beer cans that are probably chillin' in your fridge as you read this now. Though rugged, the aircraft look and feel conspicuously flimsy. You will say to yourself, "We beat the Nazis flying planes like this??" And the answer is, Yes.
3) Watch Takeoffs and Landings: This is absolutely free. Even if you've seen one or more of these aircraft on static display at a museum, it's vastly more satisfying to watch them as they were meant to be -- vibrant and alive, with the motors running, and the propellers turning. Just watching them taxi out to the runway will make you feel like you're present at the creation of every World War II newsreel you've ever seen. No one will blame you if you begin to talk like Edward R. Murrow.
4) Keep an Eye on the Sky and Listen: Even if you can't make it to the airport, you may still catch one of the Collings warbirds flying overhead. The key is to listen for the throaty rumble. Unlike modern liquid-cooled engines, which make a high-pitched buzz, the air-cooled radial engines used on World War II-era bombers emit a deep growl that sounds like a hot rod V-8 idling at low RPMs. If it's got four engines, skinny wings, and a funny tail (like the airplane to the left), it's the Liberator. If it's got four engines and a chunky, streamlined appearance, it's the B-17. Two engines means it's the B-25.
Last year, while taking a coffee break on the patio of the Telstar Logistics global headquarters, we heard a deep rumble emanating from the south. It got louder, and louder, and then the Collings B-24 suddenly roared just overhead, flying at around 1000'. It almost looked close enough to touch, and as our heads spun around to track it, the plane began banked to the northeast, on an intercept course to downtown San Francisco.
Cheap thrills don't come any cheaper -- or any more thrilling.
Attention Maker's Faire Attendees: If you'll be in Silicon Valley to attend the Maker's Faire in San Mateo, California this weekend, rememeber that the arrival of the Wings of Freedom tour at nearby Moffet Field presents an easy twofer opportunity for geek fun. Click here for directions on how to get from the San Mateo Fairgrounds to Moffet Field in Menlo Park.
Collings Foundation 2007 Wings of Freedom Tour Schedule.
PREVIOUSLY: Over Silicon Valley in a B-17 Flying Fortress (with photos!)
(All photos above by Telstar Logistics, from the 2002 Wings of Freedom Tour)