Visitors to the museum can pay an extra fee to tour the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell and P-51 Mustang through Sunday.
But to really get the full experience, visitors can take a flight in the airplanes. Thirty-minute flights on the B-17 or B-24 are $450 while the B-25 costs $400. For the truly adventurous, flights on the two-seat Mustang fighter include some “stick time” where the passenger gets to take over the plane at a cost of $2,400 for 30 minutes or $3,400 for an hour.
The flights are done after the museum closes each day.
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The aircraft are owned by the nonprofit Collings Foundation, which works to keep this living history alive.
Flying in the B-25
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram got to experience a flight in the B-25 firsthand Wednesday.
The crew begins by manually turning the propeller blades, required for any rotary engine to keep oil from concentrating in the bottom cylinder.
Then, one engine fires up, sending a cloud of burned oil and exhaust into air. Less than a minute later, the other engine turns on.
The sound becomes deafening as the B-25 comes to full throttle on the tarmac at Love Field.
Inside the plane, ear protection is mandatory and talking or even yelling irrelevant — everything is done through hand signals.
The bomber waits for clearance to take off, revs up the engines and lets loose. The B-25 picks up speed quickly going against a strong southerly wind, demonstrating the short take-off capabilities that allowed it to operate on aircraft carriers. A few seconds later, the plane is at cruising altitude, about 1,000 feet.
The unpressurized war bird is rocked by the turbulence as passengers crawl to the bomber/navigator station in the front or the tailgun position in the back. As the plane turns east, there’s a perfect view of the downtown Dallas skyline.
The .50 caliber machine guns that once defended the plane from fighter attacks are still there, minus the bullets.
Overall, the 30-minute experience transports passengers back in time to World War II when young men would go on eight-hour missions at high altitude in freezing conditions with no bathroom, breathing oxygen out of masks and eating rations out of tin cans.
“You’re going to have all the noise and vibrations, smells that they had. You’re going to sit in the same seats that they sat in,” said Will Dismukes, a volunteer pilot with the Collings Foundation.
“You’re not going to have anybody shooting at you. Just imagine all the sensations you have on this ride and multiply them times that difficulty and you’ll get a real sense of what it was like and maybe a new respect for these young people.”
History of the aircraft
The B-25 owned by the Collings Foundation owns was built in Kansas City, Kansas, and used for pilot training for bomber pilots. It also saw use as a civilian forest fire aircraft. The Collings Foundation bought it in 1984 and originally flew it as the “Hoosier Honey” representing an aircraft that flew in North Africa and Italy in 1944.
In 2001, the plane was overhauled and became “Tondelayo,” a real B-25 that sank a Japanese freighter and took on a squadron of Zero fights in a mission that garnered all its crew the Silver Star award.
The woman on the side of the plane is Hedy Lamarr, who portrayed the character Tondelayo in the 1942 film “White Cargo.”
The B-24 was built at Consolidated Aircraft Company in Fort Worth in 1944. The aircraft ended up in the British Royal Air Force where it flew missions out of India. The Indian Air Force kept it operational after the war and held on to it for decades, saving it from the scrap heap that most B-24s ended up in.
It eventually found its way to the Collings Foundation, which restored it to working order and repainted it as “Witchcraft,” a real legendary B-24.
The B-17 was built near the end of the war and was used for rescue and transportation missions. At one point, the body of the plane was used to test the effects of nuclear explosions. It was then sold for scrap to Aircraft Specialties Company, which painstakingly restored it and sold it to the Collings Foundation.
In 1987, the aircraft crashed at an air show in Pennsylvania, requiring it to be restored again. This time it was painted with the name “Nine-0-Nine,” which flew several missions over Germany.
The P-51 Mustang was a training aircraft that still has its original markings and name, “Toulhouse Nuts.” Thousands of hours went into restoring the aircraft to look brand new.