I’m not sure exactly how this happened, but I turned 60 years old yesterday. A little scary (maybe more so for my parents!), but there is an upside to this: WE DON’T HAVE TO PAY FOR MY HEALTH INSURANCE ANYMORE!!! That’s the primary reason we’ve been working off and on for the past five years of retirement, so now we should be able to just work for our site once in awhile to save on campsite fees. Hooray!!
So, for my birthday, we decided to drive up to San Marcos (between San Antonio and Austin) to see Derick. Derick became part of our family back in 1994 when he first came to Alaska after rooming with our oldest son, Eric, in college. He came every summer after and then moved to Alaska after graduation to fly for ERA Aviation. Anyway, he now flies & maintains WWII planes for The Collings Foundation. The foundation does a “Wings of Freedom” tour for 10 months every year, flying around the country with a B-17 bomber, a B-24 bomber and a P-51 Mustang fighter.
Other than dinners in the evening with Derick and one little drive through the countryside to find wildflowers, we mostly hung out in the shade under the wing of the B-17 and visited with whoever walked by, including Derick and his co-workers.
Here’s the story in pictures, starting with Monday:
John & Derick by the “Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress”, a/k/a “Nine-O-Nine”.
The “Consolidated B-24J Liberator”, a/k/a “Witchcraft” from “our” spot under the B-17 wing.
The “North American TP-51C Mustang”, a/k/a “Betty Jane”.
This P-51 isn’t with the tour, but is Bob Hoover’s “Ole Yeller” (for those aviation buffs reading this). It was flown down from Idaho to Fredericksburg, Texas by its current owner to help celebrate Bob Hoover’s 90th birthday. Derick got to fly from Fredericksburg to San Marcos in it – lucky guy!
Derick took us first on a personalized tour of the B-17. I’m always amazed at the number of controls in a cockpit!
Here’s John trying to navigate the bombay. Those young aviators during the war must have all been petite!!
Derick also treated us to a demonstration of one way to enter the belly turret under the B-17…
Apparently, the easier and more commonly used way to get in there was from the inside of the plane!
Both bombers had lots of names on the side of donors who have helped support the foundation.
Here’s Derick in the cockpit of the B-24. He showed us all the steps to take when starting each of the four engines. Pretty complicated!
This is Alex, an 11-year future pilot! Derick let him ride in the P-51 when it was being towed to the hangar at the end of the day. The kid couldn’t quit smiling afterwards!
Tuesday morning, we took a drive through the countryside looking for those famous Texas wildflowers. Bingo…Texas bluebonnets!
Shortly after we arrived at the airport, some gentleman with $$ to spare went for a ride with pilot Jim in the P-51.
Felt right at home when we saw this Super Cub taxi by on its “tundra tires”!
And, here’s the B-17 on its first “passenger” flight of the day.
And, you’ll never guess who got to go along on the second flight of the B-17…
I be one lucky birthday girl!
This is the most amazing view looking back out the open top turret. That’s right – I actually got to stick my head out the top of the plane while we were flying!!! What an incredible experience!
And, this is looking out the front from the bombadier’s station…
and, down at the ground…
and, over at two of the four engines…
and, back at the pilots from the little bubble. If you enlarge the picture, you can see Mac giving me a thumbs-up!
On this flight, there is no secure door to the cockpit!
More views from the open top turret. Definitely my favorite part of the flight!
Thanks so much, Derick, for a most amazing birthday treat!! And, then the kid took us out for dinner at Saltgrass Steak House. Yum, yum!! Thanks again, kiddo!
On Wednesday, the weather closed in a bit and the B-24 flight was delayed. Here’s how excited pilots get while waiting for weather to clear…
Finally, the storms had mostly passed through and Jim hitched a ride on the P-51 as it was being towed out of the hangar. That would have been fun, too…
Last flight for the San Marcos portion of the tour with Derick directing traffic from above!
Then they were off to Houston for more of the same. And, we headed back to the RGV. The slow, boring way.