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blank 06/19/10 11:13AM Air Museums, Air Shows, B-24, Events, P-51, Warbirds, WWII

Slice of history comes to Humboldt: Historic World War II Bombers Tour North Coast

Reprinted from the Times-Standard.com

Flying relics from World War II hit the local tarmac on Monday to share the history behind the war bombers as part of the Wings of Freedom Tour.

The Collings Foundation's B-17, B-24 and P-51 aircraft flew in to the Arcata-Eureka Airport on Monday through mostly clear skies from Concord. The tour comes to the area about once every two years and offers walk-throughs of the bombers and, for a few, flights to view the local area from up high.

Arcata pilot Al Castaldi volunteers to help however he can when the tour comes to town, because he has known many people who served during World War II. He said all those military personnel who served have stories to share, but that recounting of history will soon be lost as that generation ages and dies.

”They all have stories,” Castaldi said. “We just try to keep it alive.”

They also hope the knowledge can be passed down to new generations through such tours, Castaldi said -- without direct links, the details of events can be lost and history lessons can be slanted.

”It's mostly to keep the young people apprised of what really happened in World War II,” Castaldi said.

Aircraft such as the P-51C Mustang called Betty Jane on the tour with the bombers acted as a long-range pursuit planes to protect the bigger and slower bombers during missions, Castaldi said. The Boeing B-17G called Flying Fortress, also on the tour stop in Humboldt County, was made famous in its role in the Daylight Strategic Bombing Campaign of World War II and numerous post-war movies, according to the Collings Foundation website.

Contrary to what the morning weather offered, the flight from Concord to Humboldt County was sunny and, for the most part, devoid of great turbulence. But it wasn't quiet. The loud engines of the B-24, and the wind coming through open hatches that once allowed machine gun fire, prompted passengers to don earplugs as they flew up the Lost Coast.

The Witchcraft bomber had special significance for one of its passengers. San Jose resident Sam Carlino toured the Witchcraft B-24 about 10 years ago with his father, who had served as a radio operator on the same type of bomber. Due to his father's condition at the time, it was difficult for them to walk through the bomber, but they made it through.

”He wanted me to see what he used to do,” Carlino said.

Two years later, Carlino's father died. Upon arriving at the air field in Concord on Monday, Carlino realized he would be flying in the same aircraft he toured with his father nearly a decade ago.

”It was an emotional moment,” Carlino said.

The Witchcraft is a Consolidated B-24J Liberator, built in 1944 in Fort Worth, Texas. With a wingspan of 110 feet and a length of more than 67 feet, it was equipped with 10 machine guns, most of which are still visible during the tours, and was staffed by 10 crew members. It is the nation's only operating and flying B-24 left, said Jim Goolsby, one pilot of the bomber.

”I can say that I'm the last man to drop a bomb from a B-24, and that was last week,” Goolsby said.

They did a simulation recently where the aircraft dropped a “concrete bomb” and missed its target, an indication of the poor accuracy such bombers usually produced without great skill and practice.

”Let's just say we learned how to hit the ground,” Goolsby said jokingly.

Palm Springs resident Joe Scheil also helped pilot the Witchcraft, and has been doing so for about three years.

”From a professional level, it's very gratifying to be trusted with something so valuable,” he said. “From a personal level, it's amazing to be flying something with so much history, and from a level of craft, as flying is my craft, it's a very demanding airplane to fly.”

The machine is large, heavy, and requires a slightly different skill set to keep in the air than what most pilots have experience with, Scheil said. The flight from Concord to Humboldt County took about 1 hour, 45 minutes, and almost 400 gallons of fuel. But that is relatively fuel-efficient, Scheil said, as it would be equivalent to about three SUVs driving that same distance at 20 miles per gallon.

Menlo Park resident Jim Long brought Jordan Long, 14, and Jackson Long, 8, along for the flight from Concord, and after the flight they made their way back home via car. Jim Long is a private pilot and a fan of World War II history, so when the opportunity came up to tag along for the ride, he and the boys took it.

Jim Long said his private aircraft, compared to the B-24, is “a little more comfortable but a lot less interesting.”

The Wings of Freedom Tour will showcase its bombers at the Arcata-Eureka airport from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday. Tickets are $12 per adult, $6 per child. Flights in the bombers are $425 per person and can be scheduled by calling 800-568-8924.

Allison White can be reached at 441-0506 or Emailed

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