More than 60 years after the end of World War II, three vintage fighter planes from the war are still flying high. Volunteer pilots travel the country in the aircrafts as part of the Wings of Freedom Tour, and they recently stopped at the DuPage County Airport.
“You get to fly around in a piece of history every day and get to see some of the most wonderful people you’ll ever meet,” said volunteer pilot Mack McCauley. “And the veterans that are still with us, it’s great to see their reactions when they see the airplanes.”
The P51 Mustang was the first American fighter to escort bombers to Berlin, while the B17 and the B24 were strategic bombers that infiltrated German munitions and airplane factories. The B24 is the most mass-produced aircraft in American history. More than 18,000 were built during the war, but this is the only one left that still operates.
“To still fly these airplanes that changed the world is amazing.” said volunteer pilot Chuck Gardener.
Changing the world was the furthest thing from Jerry Stone’s mind when he voluntarily joined the air corps during the latter half of the war. After earning his wings, he flew a B17 into Germany. “I was 20 years old and I guess I thought it was really a thrill,” said Stone. “I didn’t know how dangerous it might have been.”
Kids and adults alike explored the cramped interior of the planes. Veterans hope they gain some perspective from the experience.
“I hope they get a little sense of thankfulness of what perhaps their grandfathers, and some of them maybe their fathers, what they did in defense of our country,” said Stone.
This is the tour’s 21st year. Each year, the planes travel to more than 100 cities around the country.