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Wings of Freedom Tour brings rare aircraft to Butler County Airport

| Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013, 3:04 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
John Jackanic 75, of Cranberry peers into the Consolidated B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft” WWII Heavy Bomber on the The Wings of Freedom Tour at the Butler County Airport. The B-24 is the sole remaining example of its type flying in the world
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Nick Alter, 7, of Butler takes aim with the side gun of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Nine O Nine” WWII Heavy Bomber, when he and his friends toured the plane on the The Wings of Freedom Tour at the Butler County Airport. The B-17 is one of only 8 in flying condition in the United Stat

Alex Taylor began to volunteer with an organization that brings a collection of rare World War II aircraft to airports around the country each year after getting a sign from above.

“I went to the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler, Ga., in 2002 because my cousin Emory (Fabian) was a top turret gunner on a B-17 during World War II, and I was trying to gather some information about his unit,” said Taylor, 74, of Hampton.

“As I was walking into the building, I looked up, and there was a vintage B-17 flying overhead. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.”

Taylor learned that the aircraft was part of the Wings of Freedom Tour at nearby Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.

“I started volunteering and several years later took over as the coordinator for the show when it was held at the Allegheny County Airport,” said Taylor, who served in the Army during the early 1960s.

Taylor said he wanted to make it easier for people — especially veterans — who live north of Pittsburgh to attend the show, so he convinced the sponsors to move it this year to the Butler County Airport.

The three-day show in Butler that ended Wednesday and moved on to Altoona featured a vintage P-51 Mustang fighter plane and a pair of “heavy bombers” — a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Nine O Nine” and a Consolidated B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft.”

The major difference with Wings of Freedom and other air shows is that visitors can “get an up-close view” and if they want, and fly in the aircraft, said Hunter Chaney, a spokesman for the nonprofit Collings Foundation in Stow, Mass., which has sponsored the Wings of Freedom tour for the past 24 years.

The tour will visit 110 cities this year.

“Our goal is for these planes to serve as a memorial to our World War II veterans and be a living history lesson for the people who come out to see them,” Chaney said.

“Stepping into these rare aircraft and seeing how utilitarian they are gives people a sense of the danger the crews faced. And flying in one of them is an awesome experience that they will always remember.”

Eugene Hinchberger, 90, of Butler Township, who served as an engineer and gunner aboard a B-24 Liberator during World War II, got a chance to relive the experience on Wednesday.

“After the war, I really tried to forget about the fighting we were involved in,” said Hinchberger, who was stationed in England and flew missions against the Germans.

“But it really was a thrill to fly in one of those planes again.”

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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