The new experience isn’t just a way to learn about history- it’s a way to experience it.
HAYDEN, Idaho — Garry Widmyer was driving by the Coeur d’Alene Airport on Monday morning when he saw them: A B-17 and a B-25.
While there was work to be done, he pulled over.
“When I see these things, I will stop everything,” the Post Falls man said. “I’m a big enthusiast when it comes to these World War II planes. I just absolutely love them. It’s so cool to hear them.”
His son, Justin Widmyer, was amazed, as were his grandsons, Eli and Gunner.
“Seeing the history of these things, knowing what they’ve been through, wow,” Justin said.
“They are awesome,” Eli added.
The nonprofit Airbase Arizona Flying Museum brought the iconic warplanes from World War II to visit the Coeur d’Alene Airport, reports our partners from the Coeur d’Alene Press.
The B-25, “Maid in the Shade,” and the B-17, “Sentimental Journey,” will be available for rides and ground tours through Sunday as part of The Flying Legends of Victory Tour.
The aircraft will also participate in the Coeur d’Alene Air Expo this weekend.
Mike Mueller, rides director with the volunteer organization, said the planes tour each summer.
“It’s really to honor the men and women who served in World War II, but also to honor those serving now,” he said.
Mueller said they love sharing the stories of the planes, which are restored to original condition. People can go through them, see the cockpit, the bombing bay and the tiny space where the tail gunner was posted.
Mueller said that at a recent show in Missoula, about 25 people said either their grandfather or father flew the B-17 Flying Fortress or B-25 Mitchell in World War II.
The men who piloted them are nearly all gone.
“We’re almost out of that generation that flew these airplanes in combat,” he said.
The signatures of those who flew in the planes, or their relatives, decorate the bombing bay doors.
As one man signed for his father, he cried.
“It was very emotional,” Mueller said.
The B-17 Flying Fortress Sentimental Journey is one of five in the world, out of over 12,000 manufactured during World War II, that is still flying.
It was most famous for operations in Europe but was used in every theater of war from 1941 to 1945.
“At high bombing altitudes in unheated aircraft, extreme temperatures subjected many crew members to frostbite,” a press release said.
Sentimental Journey was originally manufactured and delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces for war service in 1944 — too late for European service but it flew missions in the Pacific Theater.
After the war, she flew for training, testing and air-sea rescue missions and was eventually sold for surplus and used as a fire bomber, the release said.
In 1978, the aircraft was purchased by a Commemorative Air Force member. She was restored and is maintained in tip-top condition. It is operated by all-volunteer crews from CAF Airbase Arizona.
Michael Baker of Michael’s Aviation Photography said B-17s “never cease to amaze me.
“I’m in heaven when I’m around them,” he said as he took pictures.
The B-25 Mitchell was a versatile aircraft. Heavily armed, it was utilized for high- and low-level bombing, strafing, photo-reconnaissance and submarine patrol, a release said. Its most famous role was in the historic raid over Tokyo in 1942 by the Doolittle Raiders.
“Our particular B-25J, Maid In The Shade, served her wartime duty with the 319th Bomb Group, 437th Squadron at Serragia Airbase, Corsica,” the release said. “There it was assigned Battle Number 18.”
The plane flew 15 combat missions over Italy and Yugoslavia between Nov. 4 and Dec. 31, 1944.
After the war, she was used as a trainer before being sold at auction and used as an insect sprayer. She was acquired by Airbase in 1981 and after a 28-year restoration, flew again in 2009.
Bob Gates, crew chief of the B-25, was looking over the plane Monday. He said it’s in excellent shape and they make sure it stays that way.
“We don’t screw around with safety,” he said. “There’s only one way to fix an airplane, and it’s the right way.”
Russ Kozimor, crew chief with the B-25, said, “It’s a privilege and an honor to keep these birds flying.”
When he first joined as a volunteer, it was about the planes.
“But once you meet the veterans and the families, you hear the stories, that’s what it’s all about,” Kozimor said. “The plane’s still cool, but it’s the stories and the people that’s most important, keeping that memory alive.”
Aircraft will be open to the public today to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. at 11101 N. Airport Drive.
Ground tours are $15 per person or $30 for a family of four. Tickets can be purchased at the plane.
To book a ride: www.flyinglegendstour.com or 480-462-2992.
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