The Wings of Freedom Tour took off 24 years ago when Bob Collings of The Collings Foundation wanted a way to not only educate, but engage and truly explain the history of World War II to younger generations.
Visiting about 110 cities every year, the tour draws about four million people nationwide every year.
With an estimated 70 to 90 million people dying during WWII, Hunter Chaney, marketing director at the Collings Foundation, said "it's one of the worst — if not the worst — conflicts humans have gone through since we've been on this planet."
Chaney cited nuclear bombs, the Holocaust and imperialism as a few examples that contributed to the "extremely high loss of life." He added that the Wings of Freedom Tour is paramount in keeping history alive and relevant, "so we don’t repeat it."
Transporting guests back to 1944 to the Pacific Theater or Europe, the Wings of Freedom Tour travels the country with three very rare WWII aircrafts, allowing the public a chance to not only view the classic Americana but even fly in them.
Using the aircraft as a visual aid of sorts, the tour pairs up with WWII vets and other volunteers to share their experiences, making the tour interactive and, according to Chaney, "a living history lesson."
The B-24 Liberator "Witchcraft" Heavy Bomber was the most mass-produced aircraft during WWII, with one produced every hour for four years. The B-24 was developed using a design by Ford. At the end of WWII, there were 18,000 known B-24's left in "aircraft boneyards" — now, the Wings of Freedom Tour has the only one in flying condition. 97,000 hours of restoration was needed to accomplish the restoration.
The Boeing B-17 Fortress "Nine O Nine" WWII Heavy Bomber is "one of the most recognized aircraft from WWII," Chaney said. The tour is lucky to own one of only eight known in flying condition in the United States.
The third aircraft is the American P-51 Mustang Fighter. Rated "Number One Aircraft" by the Discovery Channel, the P-51 has been called the best fighter plane ever built. The P-51 was referred to as the heavy bomber’s "Little Friend," for saving countless pilot and crew members from Axis attacks in the unfriendly skies. The WWII P-51 was a "C-Model," meaning dual controls.
The Wings of Freedom Tour will make its way to the Destin Airport today at 2 p.m. and will be on display until 12 p.m. on Friday. The cost to view the historic aircraft is $12 for adults and $6 for children 12 and under. For those who want to step into a WWII pilot’s suit, B-17 and B-24 flights are available for $425 per half-hour and P-51 flights are $2,200 per half-hour and $3,200 per hour.
For more information on the Collings Foundation or The Wings of Freedom Tour, call 800-568-8924 or visit collingsfoundation.org.