Warbird History Arrives On The Wings Of Freedom

By: Jason Tighe
By: Jason Tighe

Knoxville (WVLT) -- History in a textbook is one thing, but the tarmac of McGhee Tyson Airport offered a different lesson.

The lesson was an obvious one, when you get the chance to touch something both physically and emotionally, it gives you a new appreciation of service and sacrifice.

Over the weekend it was two Warbirds from World War II that turned TacAir into a blast from the past.

One of them was a B-17 Flying Fortress, ironically sitting on the tarmac as a stationary story-teller.

"It's a four engine bomber from World War Two," said Clark Sanders, who flew in a B-17.

But more than 60 years later it remains an attention grabber.

"There are tons of machine guns," said Zachary Bradley, an airplane enthusiast, "there's tons of them in there, and there's three bombs."

According to veterans, it wasn't as glamorous as some make it out to be.

"Young folks today have no concept," Sanders said, "especially of what these people went through flying these missions in this airplane."

The bombers side panel art speaks to this warbirds missions of hardship.

"These guys flew over Germany, dropping the bombs and getting shot at," Sanders said.

"You don't have a good time in war because you're living to go back home," said Walter Green, a World War II veteran.

A tour of the cramped quarters, gives further hints to just how tough a road those brave warriors traveled, all those years past.

"It would come in on a wing and a prayer because they'd shoot it up," Green said.

Decades later, another enemy has the "nine-o-nine" in its sights...Time.

"These are sixty year old airplanes and like anything else that's that old, it's more difficult to maintain than if it wasn't," said Mac McCauley, a Wings of Freedom pilot.

The Collings Foundation, which revived the historic aircraft, does daily up keep.

Because of their work, the B-17 has been transformed into a mobile classroom.

"We travel all year long," McCauley said, "so maintenance is pretty much ongoing all the time. When we're not flying them, we're fixing them."

While the plane represents a bomber that saw heavy combat action, this particular airframe was created later in the war.

Regardless, the emotions that it and the other planes evoke are as real as you can get.

Also on display was a B-24 Liberator, also known as the "Flying Boxcar."

You can find more information about Wings of Freedom by clicking on the Hot Key.


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