John & Anne Wiley

2014/05/13

Air Day

Today was very special for us in so many ways. The most exciting part began when we saw this almost ominous shape appear coming in off the Pacific over SBCC evoking the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo in WWII.

2977 B-25 Mitchell Inbound

2977 B-25 Mitchell Inbound

We’d volunteered to help people tour a group of extremely rare aircraft visiting SBA for a few days. When we heard from the ground crew that they’d be arriving late, we took Tripp for a relaxing flight in the clear air. When I heard this guy contact ATC inbound, it was exciting enough to see it in the distance like this. But then it flew almost beneath us at double our speed, bringing no attack on the homes below but the bygone and all but forgotten distinctive song of two big radial engines once so common here.

2999 Forgotten Tune

2999 Forgotten Tune

We hurried back to the airport, landing just after this beauty so we could help on the ground. Before long a B-24 Liberator taxied in with the flight engineer perched on top like the cowboy in that old nuclear bomb movie.

3089 B-24 Liberator Business End

3089 B-24 Liberator Business End

This was not a welcome sight in the air around a Japanese held island when my dear late friend and father-in-law John F. Humphrey and his ace gunner Claude W. Hawkins sank one of their ships, and shot down some of their fighters and light bombers. Soon my favorite airplane of all time arrived with the siren song of a V-12 Merlin engine: the P-51 Mustang fighter.

3197 P-51 Mustang

3197 P-51 Mustang

This one is especially rare, being the only one built with two seats and dual controls plus the distinction of having flown Eisenhower over Normandy during the landing. It was a long and tiring day out on the hot pavement for us but very rewarding seeing awe in the eyes of children, bliss on faces of aviation enthusiasts, and tears in the eyes of the few remaining men who flew these planes. Then the real excitement began!

3146 Flying In Memories

3146 Flying In Memories

Because the ground crew had one empty seat in the day’s last B-24 flight, they offered it to Anne and me in appreciation. My Perfect Wife watched in delight as I got aboard, and I was awash in memories riding along our familiar coast in this icon of American air power. I climbed up front into the bow turret where Claude spent hours surveying the open sea, and protecting our dear Dad. I surveyed the gauges and controls where he sat for hours using all his exceptional flying skill and youthful wisdom protecting dear Claude and the rest of his crew.

3161 New Mission

3161 New Mission

Now instead of flying young men doing their best to destroy the enemy that had attacked Pearl Harbor, this Liberator faithfully carries a middle-aged pilot and his female co-pilot touring the country so that we can all remember the sights, sounds and smells that were once so familiar to that dwindling generation of quiet heroes. We owe them so much, and miss them so dearly.

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