KEARNEY — Piloting a World War II fighter plane reminds Hunter Chaney of driving a car. A very fast car.
“It’s such an unusual experience,” he said in an interview from his office in Massachusetts. “It’s like driving a really, really fast Cadillac.”
Chaney, marketing director for the Collings Foundation, announced that five vintage WWII aircraft will stop in Kearney July 15-17 as part of the group’s Wings of Freedom tour. Patrons can tour the aircraft for $15 or book 30-minute flights on the bombers starting at $400.
For the more adventurous, patrons can experience a little “stick time,” an opportunity to take the controls — with the help of a licensed pilot — and fly a P-51 fighter plane starting at $2,400 for 30 minutes.
The Wings of Freedom tour will include:
- Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
- Consolidated B-24 Liberator
- B-25 Mitchell
- North American P-51 Mustang
- Curtiss P-40 Warhawk
Tours of the aircraft cost $15 for adults and $5 for children. A 30-minute flight aboard the B-17 or the B-24 are $450 per person. A ride on the B-25 is $400 per person.
“The saying we have with these tours is that if you read about World War II history, it’s something you might remember,” Chaney said in a previous Hub interview. “But to experience something like flying in a fully restored historic aircraft, that’s something you’ll never forget. And that’s exactly what this tour is, an interaction in World War II history.”
The Collings Foundation of Stow, Mass., seeks to preserve and display transportation-related history. The foundation maintains collections of historic aircraft. The Wings of Freedom Tour acts like a
museum, bringing artifacts to the visitor instead of asking the visitor to travel to a museum.
Chaney describes the opportunity to actually fly a fighter plane as something extremely special.
“We do get folks who come out and invest that level of money to fly with us,” he said. “It’s consistent across the country: The P-51 flies, on average, a couple times a day, somewhere between two and five flights.”
The P-51 costs $2,400 for 30-minutes of flight time or $3,400 for an hour. Flight training on the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk is $2,200 for half an hour or $3,200 for 60 minutes.
“There’s nothing quite like this,” Chaney said. “This experience remains an aviation fascination for so many people. It’s such a rarity in arguably one of the finest designed aircraft in the history of aviation. The amazing things is that you don’t need flying experience. Anyone can get flight instruction, as long as you are physically able to fly.”
He calls the experience a “straight-forward learning” opportunity.
“There is a steady progression into control, through the instruction of the pilot,” he said.
The P-41 and P-50 are trainers, designed for instruction.
“In WWII, the P-40s and the P-51s were mostly single-seaters,” Chancy said. “It wasn’t until after the war that these air frames were reconstructed to have a duel cockpit control figuration. The P-51 is one of two that remain that were originally government contracted conversions. This one came out of the North American factory in the late 1940s, after WWII.”
Because of the construction of the fighter planes, pilots cannot see much below them, especially when on the ground.
“When you’re taxiing, you can’t see directly in front of you,” he said. “What you have to do is move the plane left and right, you rudder the tail over so you can get a glimpse of what’s ahead. Then you straighten out.”
After takeoff, the pilot’s visibility improves.
“Outside of taxiing, the visibility is incredible,” Chaney said. “It’s as if you’re sitting on top of this flying carpet. The visibility is pretty much 360.”
While costs seem high to pilot the fighter planes, they reflect the actual costs of running the aircraft. Chaney expects mechanics and crew members to spend 10 hours of maintenance per plane for each hour the planes spends flying. Overhauling the engines on the fighter aircraft cost about $250,000.
“To operate the B-17, per hour, runs us about $5,600,” Chaney said.
“Hopefully we’ll get some guys in Kearney to come out who flew in these planes during the war,” he said. “World War II veterans are fading away so quickly. It’s programs like this that are becoming increasingly more rare. Engaging people, in a tactile way with this history, is paramount.”