Aug 08, 2018

Up, Up and Away 

By Lori Draz

Gabriel Decoff, left, 9, of Spencer, salutes World War II Air Force veteran Bill Purple, right, in front of a B-17 bomber during the Wings of Freedom event at Worcester Regional Airport in Worcester.

New Jersey has a rich aviation history. Here are a few notable events:

• 1793: French balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard made the first flight in the Western Hemisphere when he ascended from Philadelphia, flew across the Delaware River and landed in Deptford.

• 1830: Jersey City’s Charles Durant became the first American balloonist to fly.

• 1909: Rahway’s Boland brothers built and flew the state’s first fixed-wing aircraft. They were also the first to fly in South America.

• 1912: Oliver Simmons in a Wright Flyer carried the first official sack of mail across Raritan Bay, from South Amboy to Perth Amboy.

• 1921: The world’s largest hangar and America’s first dirigible, the U.S.S. Shenandoah, were built in Lakehurst.

• 1932: Amelia Earhart prepared for her solo transatlantic flight at Teterboro.

• 1937: The Hindenburg passenger airship explodes at Lakehurst Naval Air Station.

• 1953: Charles Fletcher invents and flies the world’s first hovercraft.

• 1968: Walter Schirra of Oradell becomes the only astronaut to fly in all three spacecraft, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.

• 1969: Montclair’s Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin was the first astronaut to land a vehicle on the moon.

• 1984: Astronaut Kathryn Sullivan, a Paterson native, was the first woman to walk in space.

• 1991: During Desert Storm, Oradell’s Major Marie Rossi was the first American woman to fly in combat.

And that’s just a little piece of it. From military bases to major international airports to small airports and helicopter pads, New Jersey is as crowded above as it is below.

From Aug. 22 to 26, sky-eyed spectators are in for a treat when the WWII Vintage Planes of The Wings of Freedom Tour touch down at Monmouth Executive Airport, Route 34 in Wall.

In honor of the nation’s brave WWII veterans, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see and fly in living history. The event is presented by The Collings Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit educational foundation that organizes “living history” events so people can learn more about their heritage and history through direct participation.

Among the extremely rare bomber and fighter aircraft on display at The Wings of Freedom Tour will be a WWII Vintage Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Consolidated B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell and North American P-51 Mustang.  These planes were the backbone of the American effort during the war and were famous for their ability to sustain damage and still accomplish the mission, despite anti-aircraft fire and the harrowing sub-zero temperatures.

The P-51 Mustang was affectionately known as the bombers “Little Friend” – saving countless crews from attacking axis fighters. After the war, many aircraft were scrapped for their raw aluminum to rebuild a nation in post-war prosperity, and therefore very few were spared. The rarity of these planes – and their importance to telling the story of WWII – is why the Collings Foundation continues to fly and display the aircraft nationwide.

This could well be your only chance to see the WWII B-17 Flying Fortress “Nine O Nine,” the B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft,” the B-25 Mitchell “Tondelayo” bombers, and the P-51 Mustang “Toulouse Nuts.” The B-17 is one of only nine in flying condition in the United States. The B-24J is the sole remaining example of its type flying in the world. The B-25 is best known for being used in the daring Doolittle raid. The P-51 Mustang was awarded the prestigious Grand Champion award for restoration.

Exquisite treasures all, and all in working order. The 29th Nationwide Wings Of Freedom Tour will visit 110 cities in over 35 states annually. Tens of millions have seen this unique interactive traveling historical display that serves as a flying tribute to the flight crews who flew them, the ground crews who maintained them, the workers who built them, the soldiers, sailors and airmen they helped protect; and the citizens and families that share the freedom that they helped preserve.

Visitors may explore the aircraft inside and out, take a ride, even fly one. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children under 12. Braver visitors may take a once-in-a-lifetime 30-minute flight aboard these rare aircraft. Flights on either the B-17 or B-24 are $450 per person. And the truly adventurous can get some “stick time” in the world’s greatest fighter – P-51 flights are $2,200 for a half hour and $3,200 for a full hour. B-25 flights are $400 per person.

For reservations and information on flight experiences, call 800-568-8924. Local veterans and their families are encouraged to visit and share their experiences and stories with the public. For more information visit

Another spectacular show is taking place over the world-famous Atlantic City Boardwalk on Wednesday, Aug. 22. The 16th annual Atlantic City Air Show features a return visit from the awe-inspiring U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. They will be accompanied by the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute Team, the GEICO Skytypers, Jim Beasley Jr’s P51D Mustang demonstration, and the U.S. Navy F18 Super Hornet.