PORTLAND – Richard Gale stared out at the large forest-green bomber on the tarmac of the Portland Jetport and remembered.
“We flew all alone,” he said of his 60 combat missions in a B-24 Liberator to suppress submarines off the coast of France, unaccompanied by fighter escort. “It was all or nothing. If you met a (German) fighter plane, it was all over. If you came back, you were all set.”
Gale was one of a handful of World War II veterans and dozens of other history and aviation enthusiasts who turned out for the Wings of Freedom Tour at Portland Jetport Wednesday.
The tour includes a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-24 Liberator and a P-51 Mustang.
The tour is put on by the Collings Foundation, a nonprofit which works to educate people about the World War II warbirds and reconnect veterans with their service.
Gale pointed to the bomb doors he had to climb through in the plane’s belly before spending 10 or 11 hours searching for submarines in the Bay of Biscay, west of France. Five hundred miles away, over France, the bombers were absorbing hostile fire and their return was much less certain.
Edwin Grove of Brownfield, attended with his wife Nancy. Grove explained that he was a waist gunner in a B-17 patrolling the Western Atlantic, also on the lookout for German U-boats. At one point, Grove choked up, thinking about how full his life had been and how many young men didn’t get that chance because they didn’t survive the war.
Dick Sterling, of Scarborough, flew a P-47 fighter-bomber, attacking enemy positions on the front lines in France and then in Germany in 1944 and 1945. His son-in-law, Jim Salisbury attended with him, retelling one of the 90-year-old’s favorite stories:
Sterling, a diminutive young man whose father was an admiral in the Navy, had tried to become a Navy plot but they said he was too short. When he went to the Army, “they gave him a pillow to stand on. He still has the pillow.”
Many of those in attendance, like John Caylor, 73, of Dayton, didn’t fly in the planes but are fans of World War II aircraft. Others, are even younger fans.
“This is awesome Mom!” said an excited Nate Giddinge 10 of Pownal, as he scrambled around now inert 500-pound bombs in the fuselage of the B-17. His mother Erica said he recently brought home a library book about World War II aircraft and has been talking to his grandfather about the war.
Most of the people just toured the aircraft after paying $12 to attend, though World War II veterans got in free. Some will be taking off aboard the aircraft.
Half-hour flights on the bombers cost $425 and $2,200 for a chance to take the controls of the P-51 Mustang.
Chaney said each of the aircraft burn about 200 gallons of fuel an hour, but that’s just part of their maintenance and operations costs, which total $4,500 an hour for each plane. Maintenance is continual and replacement parts must be custom-made.
Chaney said at each stop on the tour, one to five people will spring for a flight in the Mustang with one of the volunteer pilots, and a chance to take the controls of “one of the finest designed fighter aircraft in the history of aviation.”
The tour is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. until departure at noon Friday.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: