The Wings of Freedom Tour returned to Santa Barbara Wednesday afternoon during a 110 city tour with a B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell, and the newly acquired P-40 Warhawk. Repairs to the canopy of the P-51 Mustang is delaying its arrival.
In the swelling crowd that gathered before the planes all touched down was WWII veteran and French Legion of Honor medal recipient Sir Rutledge Alexander “Putty” Mills. The retired Army Technicians officer had served in General Patton’s third Army and learned to fly after the war through the GI bill. He was on the mechanical engineering team for the design of lunar vehicles. The Santa Ynez resident makes it over the hill for “any kind of event like this,” Mills said. “I like all of them, any of these World War II planes. My favorite would be the P51 Mustang”.
WWII Veteran Roger Newton has been to these exhibits “several times but I still come.” Making his way by the B-17 parked on one end of the flight line, he heads to his favorite, the B-25. Newton entered the war in 1944 as an air cadet in the Army Air Corps. “I spent more time in that plane than the others,” Newton remembered. “It was the perfect airplane if you wanted to be a pilot when you couldn’t be a fighter pilot.”
The fast medium-bomber twin-engine could carry a load of bombs similar to the B-17 and B-24 but was a more nimble and also used as an attack airplane. Thursday, April 18 marks the 77th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid that was the B-25’s most notable single mission.
While crowds filtered in to the sectioned area, the media flight was able to fly in the B-25 with pilot Robert Pinksten and copilot Eric Whyte.
Climbing aboard the aircraft was a methodical process, partly due to the desire to see every square inch and partly due to the common sense caution needed with narrow spaces, and uncovered, working mechanisms. This is not a new ladder from the hardware store covered with safety stickers explaining how you should not use it. Our preflight ground talk included the warning we may get “bit” on sharp corners, and “If it’s red, don’t touch it.”
After the preflight safety check and the donning of protective earphones, we were off like a herd of Harleys. A thumbs up from the pilot soon after take-off was the sign that seat belts could come off, signaling we were free to roam in the few available square feet.
Squeezing down the narrow, 12-foot long channel under the pilots to enter the transparent nose on the front of the aircraft provided a hemispherical view of the world ahead. The Gaviota Coast to the right, blue sky above, the ocean below, and the Channel Islands to the left. A small seat occupied the center, an arms length from a large, non-functioning machine gun. The epic, private view suddenly becomes humbling with the thought of the wartime views through this same window.
After five minutes, it’s someone else’s turn up front, so its back though the crawl space to my seat while the plane turns 180 degrees to the east and heads down the coast to Carpinteria.
Time literally flies on the trip and too soon the seat belt signal is given, and we’re on squaring off on final approach to SBA.
Take off and landing were smoother than one would think, perhaps because of the rumbling din from the two massive engines located a few feet away.
Back on the ground it’s all smiles with wishes to do it again from the tail section.
Now through Sunday, adults get access in and around the planes on the tarmac for $15, and children 12 and under are $5. Brave souls with a strong constitution and $450 can take an approximately 30-minute tour in skies above coastline of Santa Barbara. And bring earplugs just in case.
The Wings of Freedom Tour displays vintage airplanes through Sunday, April 21, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., at the Hollister Avenue side of the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, 1501 Cook Place, Gate V-32. Access fee: adults $15, children 12 and under $5.