NEW BEDFORD - The men who flew the B-17s over Europe and Japan are going now, fewer of them left every day.

The men who flew the B-17s over Europe and Japan are going now, fewer of them left every day.

Not many of the World War II vintage planes are left, either, and it’s hard for us to imagine what it was like to be a tailgunner, a waistgunner, a bombardier, a navigator or a pilot on any of the warbirds that flew American bombs into the heart of Germany and Japan.

The Wings of Freedom Tour will bring a B-17 Flying Fortress, a Consolidated B-24 Liberator and a North American B-25 to New Bedford Regional Airport from Wednesday to Friday.

Those three planes, in their thousands, were the workhorses of the American air war from 1942 to 1945. After the war, planes like these were stripped for the aluminum, which was salvaged to build a nation at peace. Very few survived.

Located in Stow, The Collings Foundation owns one of each kind of plane, and they keep all three on the road in an endless, “Wings of Freedom Tour,” an effort to show 2007 Americans how their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers fought.

The B-17 that will come to New Bedford is one of only nine in flying condition in the United States. The B-25 is likewise one of the few of its kind to fly in this country, while the B-24 is the only flying condition plane of its kind in thew world.

For $10, an adult can get a tour of the birds. For $5, a kid under 12 gets the same tour.
If you have the desire (and the guts), you can pay $425 per person for a half-hour ride on either the B-17 or the B-24. Flights on the B-25 are $400 for the front fuselage and $325 for the waist gun section of the plane.

Hunter Chaney is the marketing director for the Collings Foundation.

“The foundation has been in existence since 1979,” Chaney said.

As for the Wings of Freedom Tour, it’s an ongoing thing.

“We’re on our 18th year of doing it,” Chaney said. “We’re in a city every three days 12 months a year.”

The purpose, Chaney said, is to let people feel, see and even fly history.

“If you read or listen to it, you might remember,” Chaney said. “If you experience it, you will remember. This is our heritage.”

Chaney noted that mopre than 18,000 B-24s were cranked out during World War II, and so it is rather marvelous that only one in the world remains in flying condition.

Chaney mentioned that none of these bombers were designed for the comfort of the crew.

“They were designed for dropping a lot of bombs and spraying a lot of lead,” Chaney said.

The planes will be on display at Sandpiper Air Inc., 1529 Airport Road at the New Bedford Regional Airport. Planes will be available for viewing from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday and 9:30 a.m. to noon on Friday. The flight experiences are normally scheduled before and after the viewing times. For further information, call 800-568-8924.

E-mail Marc Munroe Dion of The Herald News (Fall River, Mass.) at mdion@heraldnews.com.