STRATFORD, Conn. — Ninety-four-year-old Charles McMullen gingerly climbed up into a B-17 Flying Fortress Tuesday, something he hasn’t done since his 31 missions over Germany and France more than 70 years ago.
“Wonderful,” he said, walking over to the spot he would have manned as a radio operator and machine gunner. “Wow.”
The Norwalk retiree was able to step back in time thanks to the Wings of Freedom Tour of vintage World War II aircraft that will be on display at Sikorsky Memorial Airport through Friday.
The tour includes the B-17, one of only eight in flying condition in the United States, and a P-51 Mustang dubbed “Toulouse Nuts.” A B-25, the type flown by the famed Doolittle Raiders, is expected to join the pair Wednesday or Thursday.
The tour stands as a powerful reminder of the country’s past, aviation history and the sacrifices made during World War II, according to Jamie Mitchell of the Collings Foundation, which operates the tour.
It reconnects veterans like McMullen with their personal past and helps keep younger generations interested, she said.
“It’s all about giving the past a future,” she said. “As long as they’re flying, they’re still alive.”
McMullen said he was pleased to have the opportunity to get back into the plane he remembers so well. He joined the war effort just months after his high school graduation and was part of the 381st bomb unit based in England.
He carries a small photo of himself and seven of the nine men he flew with in his wallet.
“The ninth guy is taking the picture,” he said.
Dubbing their B-17 “Honey,” the men kept careful track of each mission.
“After 25 missions, you could leave,” he said. “We counted every one. We didn’t lose count.”
The Sikorsky display is part of a 110-city tour that will also include a B-24 Liberator that had to skip the Stratford appearance for maintenance. That plane is the sole remaining example of its type still flying in the world.
Visitors are invited to explore the aircraft inside and out while they’re at Sikorsky. Ground tour hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 9 a.m. to noon Friday.
Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for children under 12. Veterans may board the planes for free.
Visitors can also take a 30-minute flight aboard these rare aircraft for $450 per person.
Want some “stick time?” P-51 flight training is $2,200 for a half-hour or $3,200 for a full hour.
Call 800-568-8924 for reservations and details on flight experiences. For more information, visit www.collingsfoundation.org .
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