Collings Foundation Visit

Photos by Jeff Willhelm, Captions by Kyle Kirby

On October 22nd, 23rd and 24th 2010 we hosted the Collings Foundation with their B-24, B-17 and P-51C!

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The mighty B-24 Liberator arrives at Hickory. This is the only true surviving B-24 in the world. Thanks to the Colling’s Foundation for getting her back in the air. It was rescued from India, where they were used for many years after WW II.

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The B-24 touches down at Hickory. After representing two 15th AF units after her restoration in 1989, the aircraft now represents an 8th AF unit that was based in England. Witchcraft was assigned to the 467th BG, 790th BS and amassed an incredible 130 combat missions!! This is testament to our incredible crews in WW II. What an awesome sight to see her arriving at Hickory and the museum.

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Rick peeks out of the hatch to look for any obstacles that might be in the way of this priceless B-24J. There were many people at the airport anxious for the arrival of the Colling’s Foundation. The CF tours the country to honor those associated with the aircraft in their collection! And what a collection it is!!

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The elegant Davis wing of the B-24 is shown to great effect in Jeff’s picture here. It allowed the B-24 to fly faster than its sibling rival the B-17. The B-24 was utilized in every theatre of operations during the war and was immensely versatile. Several Allies used it as well and it was beloved by its crews. It could take a lot of punishment and carried a sizable payload a long way!

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The B-24 pulls into it’s spot on the ramp. There are those that think the aircraft is ugly. One thing is for sure….it was built to the tune of over 18,000 units and that is a US record for combat fixed wing aircraft. In haste to get caught up after joining the war in late 1941, Consolidated had to press the design forward. The result you see here. A state of the art wing with a capacious fuselage to bring high explosives upon the enemy. It worked well and B-24s flew some of the most incredible missions of the war. The Ploesti raids are hallmark in B-24 lore.

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Volumes could be written about this picture. The business end of the B-24. Up front is a twin .50 turret that protected the front of the aircraft from enemy fighters. The original B-24s and B-17s were very deficient in frontal attack protection. Hard earned lessons resulted in various manufacturers providing powered turrets up front. There are harrowing stories of Luftwaffe fighters lobbing cannon shells in the cockpits of early B-24s from frontal diving attacks. The results were just horrific and there are many stories of intense heroism in these accounts. The Germans had a highly concentrated infrastructure to gather up downed Allied aircraft and get examples airworthy. They would train against them as well as shadow formations to radio course and altitude information for their fighters and flak.

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A very emotional picture for me. My dear friend Joe Miller who flew the B-24 with the 15th AF in WW II. With the 449th BG, 717th BS at Grottaglie, Italy, Joe flew 44 missions and never lost a crew member. One thing that has to be remembered is that these aircraft and crews were exposed to the elements and it could get up to 60 below zero where they flew! There were 10 men on board usually and it was agonizing to brave the cold. They had to do that while people were also trying to shoot them down. Joe was really moved to see his former mount and I could never begin to explain what this great man means to me personally and all of the museum staff. I love Joe Miller!

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Joe taking it all in! We have shared stories together and this man is so humble. He had two aircraft shot out from under him and lost an engine on takeoff!! This was usually a death sentence, but Joe had to be a master of this great beast! T.J. Garrison and Chris Newton look on and also take the emotions in. It is always great to see young men like these who appreciate our unique history and pitch in to help at the museum. I love when the generations come together for the common good! Thanks to the CF for the incredible canvas in which to paint this picture!

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Joe powers his new chair around the B-24 as if he were 21 again! It was a joy to see his excitement and an honor. I wish you could have seen his face when the B-24 first appeared on the horizon……MONEY!!

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Joe under the Pratt & Whitney’s he has always loved! He had chances to fly other aircraft but always preferred those that were powered by P&Ws. All of Joe’s flight crew have passed now and I know he was thinking of them here. They called him Boss Man and I am sure they would have followed him anywhere he led them. There are no words that I can convey about my friend Joe that could even scratch the surface. God Bless America and John Josiah (Joe) Miller.

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The Collings Foundation cast was just impeccable. They did a press flight in the B-24 shortly after it arrived. Several of our staff got to fly over the weekend and it was great! I am very glad Jim Malcolm got to fly in the B-24. He has been with us for a long time and done so much. It makes me happy when such wonderful things like this happen. Here Jim mans the waist gunner’s .50 at a perceived threat….wait he’s aiming at me on the ground!! These great aircraft accounted for a huge amount of enemy aircraft shot down and I would have hated to be tasked with such a proposition as bringing one down with a fighter. No piece of cake at all!

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Jeff’s awesome study of the B-24’s wing. If you get a chance, visit the Colling’s Foundation website www.collingsfoundation.org. The opportunity to do this is available and it really is worth every penny!! There are some things that you just have to do and this is one of them. It sure makes you appreciate our awesome WW II airmen!

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The mighty twin verticals and rudders of the B-24. The waist gun positions are just a huge door that comes off. The panorama of planet Earth below is beyond compare. And to step back in time and live this out is beyond belief. Thank you CF!

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Jim Godwin at the waist gunners position. Jim flew SB2Cs with the Navy in WW II. This flight was a birthday present for him from his daughter Maggie and son in law Bill Jonas. I know them and have heard stories about Jim. It was an honor to tell him he was going on this flight as it got ready to leave! He was visibly moved. The CF was very gracious with the veterans and I am a fan of their hospitality.

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A peek at what the bombardier would see looking down at the Norden bomb sight. These aircraft are meticulously restored and have all the trimmings. Like the German Enigma machine, and the Japanese “purple” codes, this device was Top Secret during the war and for some years after. It was carried on and off the aircraft under armed guard. It was slaved to the auto pilot and once the IP (initial point) was attained, this early computer took over! We are lucky to have an example at the museum! Come see it.

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A peek back from the Astro Dome at Jim Harley and Mark Martin at the controls of the B-24. These guys were great ambassadors for living history. I was very proud they were here and the way they handled themselves. Great people!! This blown plexi-glass window provided a place for celestial navigation via a sextant. As well it provided a good vantage point to look for incoming fighters!

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The right wing of the B-24 with those magnificent Pratt and Whitney R-1830s. These engines provided 1200hp a piece to the B-24 and were incredibly reliable! I have met veterans who will still only fly on aircraft powered by P & W engines! The F-22 is powered by P & W F-119s to this day!

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A very interesting picture by Jeff. This fantastic shot reveals two very important offices in all of our WW II bombers. The bombardiers office below to accurately drop bombs on target, and the nose gunner’s position up top. It was found relatively early that our bombers were inadequately equipped with frontal firepower. These huge lumbering giants were responsible for the destruction of a great percentage of enemy fighters shot down. Early in the war the Luftwaffe concentrated on frontal attacks until the arrival of better protected bombers in the frontal quadrant. Those fifties up front were a tremendous force to be reckoned with indeed! Technology went ahead so rapidly it is staggering. The B-29 had radar directed turrets that were developed as the B-24s and B-17s were flying in all theaters!

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Jim Harley and Mark Martin in the B-24 cockpit!! These guys were great with the veterans and really get into their job as stewards of something pretty fantastic! We had a great weekend with them and they are welcome back anytime!!

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It is always special when young folks can experience something as special as a ride in the world’s only B-24. Here Nathan Merique mans the 50 caliber waist gun. Nathan is an outstanding example of our next generation. He is a regular at the museum and impresses me with his knowledge. He and his father built an Army jeep that he brought out amongst the aircraft. As well, he is the man that introduced us to Col. John Parker. I am so glad he got to do this. Jordan-Ashley Baker looks on. Part of the press, she did some wonderful articles on the museum and CF. Thank you!

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A work of art from any perspective. Looking aft from the right waist gunner’s position. The mighty B-24 was well armed and this shot gives you a wonderful glimpse at what our WW II bomber crews had to endure. These guys flew at around 25,000 feet on average. It can get WAY below zero up there. It was survival of the fittest on many different levels!

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The mighty Pratt and Whitney R-1830s pushing the B-24 over our beautiful landscape! There is an ironic beauty in the weapons of war.

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Ahhhh, here is the Jeep I was telling you about. Nathan also is a part of some re-enactment groups and was dressed for the occasion! We are glad he is a part of the museum!

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Legendary Stu Eberhardt brings in the P-51 for our weekend celebration. It is just beautiful and I am so glad we got to see and enjoy a razorback P-51. The aircraft is painted in Newton native Charles “Sandy” McCorkle’s colors when he commanded the 31st FG in Italy I am proud to say that our humble little museum has all of his memorabilia. I started a correspondence with this great man and he was everything you would ever hope he would be. Stu and Jim were amazed when I handed them Sandy’s form 5!!

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The Packard built V-1650 Merlin pops and sputters as Stu sets her down. This was pretty emotional for me as I had talked to Sandy and daughter Jane several times over the phone. Sandy passed August 24th 2009 at 94 and I never got to meet him. He also commanded the 54th FG in the Aleutian campaign flying P-39s! This aircraft is dual control and is magnificently restored!

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Two great aircraft from different generations! The P-51 basks in the sun in this beautiful shot as the F-14 provides a great backdrop. It is pretty great to be able to provide the public with extra attractions when we host somebody like the Colling’s Foundation. They are representing the WW II and we have other aircraft from later generations. There were a host of Vietnam vets in attendance and Later vets that were glad to share our aircraft too. Pretty good weekend!

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With our terminal (and B-24) as a background, the razorback P-51C looks menacing and eager to take to the skies. This is a magnificent restoration that was started by a friend of ours who actually did Hank Avery’s A-1E…John Muszala. Sandy’s 31st FG was reluctant to give up its Spitfires when the P-51 arrived, but soon found out it could do everything the Spit did for twice as long!! They quickly fell in love with it and immediately transferred from the 12th AF to the 15th AF as soon as they fully transitioned!! They went from 2 hour missions in the Spit to 5+ hour missions in the Mustang!

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The CF keeps the Mustang in pristine shape wherever they go! Jim Harley was polishing her not long after she arrived and shut down. There is just nothing you can do with those short stack exhausts!! They leave a rainbow across the fuselage as it releases into the slipstream. Another magnificent shot by Jeff Willhelm!

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In another Jeff Willhelm masterpiece, Stu Eberhardt adds oil after arriving from Richmond, Va. One of the great assets the P-51 had in extending its range was the very slippery Laminar Flow wing. This aerofoil was basically symmetrical and reduced drag immensely. Jeff captures it magnificently with Stu’s reflection. Stu is a great stick in the P-51.

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Jim Harley allowed me a great opportunity to sit in the office that represents Sandy McCorkle. Pretty neat opportunity and I thought about our conversations and emails as well as daughter Jane. How I wish he could have come back to Hickory and seen this grand bird!! I truly think he was here in spirit!!

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No doubt about it. this is America’s most famous aircraft ever! The B-17 can bring people from several states away to see it. It truly is a masterpiece of design and just looks as elegant as any beautiful girl….and that is just what she is!

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With the sun glistening off her tail, “Nine O Nine” taxis in to complete the package of three of the greatest aircraft of WW II. She arrived around 18:00 and there were many people who stuck around just to see her. They all said it was worth the wait!!

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With the Wright R-1820 Cyclone rumbling, the B-17 shows off her elegant lines. As with the B-24, it was found that the earlier B-17s lacked sufficient protection up front. This aircraft has been restored to B-17G standard and incorporates the twin .50 chin turret that helped solve this problem. As well there were cheek mounted .50s just behind the plexi-glass nose. As on the B-24, these aircraft usually carried a crew of ten souls on board and their record is legendary. B-17s, like the B-24 and P-51 served in virtually every theatre of operations.

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The CF B-17 is painted to represent 323rd BS, 91st BG “Nine O Nine”. This incredible aircraft completed 140 combat missions and never lost a crew member to combat causes!! This is believed to be a B-17 record. Here you can see the turbos in the nacelle that helped pressurize the fuel/air mixture up at the 25,000 ft area that these great aircraft flew. The British said daylight bombing would be disastrous but the Yanks in the B-17s and B-24s proved them wrong. Oh it was costly, but our great WW II veterans prevailed. The British continued to bomb at night and Germany was punished around the clock!

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Another Jeff Willhelm classic. The distinguishing feature of the B-17G…the chin turret. As well, you can see where the bombardier peered out the nose when the Initial Point (IP) was reached to let the Norden bomb sight work its magic.

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Like the mass of a great whale, the back of the B-17 showing its construction. No flush-riveting here, just a no nonsense execution in a great, strong design that could be mass produced to help win the war. From any angle, the B-17 lines are just impeccable!!

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As the sun sets and a full moon rises, the B-17 stands vigil, awaiting those that will come to remember how she was in her glory days. Those that shaped her very legacy, and friends and family of those that have gone on that were a part of her story. She will also win over new young hearts that may see her for the very first time. Either way, it is very awesome to be a part of this gala which shows just how incredible this mighty nation is if we all stand together! Perhaps that is the ultimate mission! God Bless America!!

Floyd Annas of Sawmills got to do a very special thing when the Collings Foundation visited HAM. Floyd actually flew the B-17H air/sea rescue version of the B-17 in the Pacific in WW II. He also flew the very first helicopters in the same role! Floyd has donated artifacts to HAM and frequently attends our Gathering of Eagles. He called me with excitement prior to this sequence of events! Floyd had the distinct honor of taking up two sons and a grandson in his former mount!! Three generations on the same bird!! Of interest, the CF B-17 actually flew the air/sea rescue mission in her day and that added to the significance of the event!! What an honor for HAM to play a role in making this awesome thing happen. Thanks again to the CF for making this happen and son Neil Annas for forwarding these incredible photographs!!

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