Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Today at KBDR

Early this morning the bright sun was shining at Sikorsky Memorial Airport (KBDR) and warming the old aluminum bones of some visiting veterans. The 2013 Wings of Freedom tour of WW II aircraft maintained and flown by the Collings Foundation was again in town. The Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress "Nine O Nine", the Consolidated B-24J Liberator "Witchcraft", and the North American P-51C Mustang "Betty Jane" were waiting quietly on the ramp for the day's visitors and admirers.

We are fortunate that there are dedicated men and women who work very hard to keep these old birds flying, helping us to honor the memories of those who went to war in them. And so, a few words about each of these wonderful machines and about their old namesakes...

The original "Nine-O-Nine" was a 91st Bomb Group, 323rd Squadron aircraft that completed 140 missions in Europe without an abort or loss of a crewman.

Today's airplane, s/n 44-83575, was license-built by Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach, CA and was accepted by the USAAF on 7 April 1945 – making her 68 years old. Born too late to see combat, she served as an air/sea rescue aircraft and as a transport. Sold into civilian life, she worked for two decades as a fire-fighting aircraft and then was restored to wartime configuration. A serious accident led to a second restoration, but since then she's logged over 1,200 tour stops. Since the unfortunate loss of "Liberty Belle" in 2011, "Nine O Nine" is one of only ten airworthy B-17's in the world.

The original “Witchcraft” was a B-24H, built at Ford's Willow Run plant in Michigan in 1944. She began combat service on April 10th, 1944, flying the first combat mission of the 467th Bomb Group. Over the next year “Witchcraft” flew 130 combat missions, never turned back from a mission, and never had any crewmen injured or killed. Her last mission was flown on April 25th, 1945.

The airplane we see today is B-24J s/n 44-44052. She was delivered from the Consolidated Aircraft Company's Fort Worth, Texas plant in August 1944, 69 years ago. In October of 1944, she was transferred to the Royal Air Force and saw combat in the Pacific Theater. At war's end, the aircraft was abandoned in Khanpur, India, never expected to fly again. However, in 1948 the Indian Air Force succeeded in restoring 36 B-24's, including this one, to operational status – and thereby hangs a tale.

These B-24's served the IAF until 1968 and then were abandoned. 44-44052 spent 13 years in derelict condition until she was discovered by a collector, shipped to England and ultimately acquired and restored by the Collings Foundation. Today she is the only airworthy B-24J and one of only two flying B-24's (the other is a B-24A).

The P-51C that carried s/n 42-103293 was built by North American at its Dallas plant in 1943. That aircraft went to England where it flew for the 370th Fighter Squadron, 359th Fighter Group. There, it suffered substantial damage in a training accident (search on the s/n HERE) in which Capt. Carey H. Brown, Jr. of Monroe, NY was killed. The aircraft was written off on 3 May 1944 and sent to the scrap heap.

After many years, significant parts of the airframe were recovered by a professional aircraft restorer – including the data plate. This allowed the resurrection of 42-103293. When the aircraft was rebuilt in 2002 and 2003 it was completed as a 2 seat version, a TP-51C. This field modification added a second seat with flight controls and instrumentation for training purposes. (At least 5 TP-51Cs were built during WWII for training and VIP transport.)

This Mustang is painted as Col. Charles M. McCorkle's "Betty Jane", that he flew as commander of the 31st Fighter Group in the Mediterranean Theater. Col. McCorkle had 11 confirmed kills, six in the Mustang. After the war, he rose to the rank of Major General, retiring in 1966. He went West in 2009.

Col. Charles M. "Sandy" McCorkle in the cockpit of his Mustang


Gary said...

Great to see these special aircraft. I get goose bumps every time I hear them roar to life. I was lucky enough to see them on September 3rd as they departed Cape May, NJ.

Cedarglen said...

Thanks Frank. It is always great to see these old birds. An off-the-wall question: Both the B-17 and the B-24 are heavy enough and complex enough to require a type certificate. In this day and age, how the heck does a pilot find and examiner qualified to issue such a thing? Regards, -C.

Frank Van Haste said...

Gary and Craig:

Thanks, as always, for stopping by. It probably shows that I love the old birds, too.

Craig, the answer to your question can be found HERE.

Best regards,


Cedarglen said...

Hi Frank. I have not looked yet, but you can bet that I will, shortly. Thanks. This question has been smoldering for a very long time. And just as with motorcycles, please fly Rubber Surfaces DOWN at all times. -C.

Frank Van Haste said...


And after you look there, if you read THIS THREAD, you'll come away shaking your head but having a better understanding of how bleedin' complicated it can get!


Cedarglen said...

Hi Frank. Read both and Wow! Hoops upon hoops. I think the Coast Guard's Master Mariner, any tonage, any water ticket is easier to obtain. Someday the FAA may figure out that there are a dozen or so pilots in the country with the qualifications necessary to display an "Any Fixed Wing Airplane" type rating on their certificates and to function as DPEs. What a mess! Thanks for the links. -C.