By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Korean War veteran Joe Sommers, 80, and Isaiah Brown, 14, both of Port Angeles, were among the lucky few who got to fly on a B-17 Flying Fortress as part of the Collings Foundation’s three-day exhibit of restored World War II-era aircraft at William R. Fairchild International Airport.
“It brings back the memories,” said Joe Sommers, who flew B-17s while serving in the Navy.
For Brown, the half-hour flight affirmed his ambition to restore vintage warplanes.
“Now it’s pretty much affirmative,” he said.
“It’s been a lifelong dream, I should say, to restore one of these.”
The B-17 was joined on the airport’s east general aviation ramp by a B-24 Liberator and P-51 Mustang.
Visitors can tour the inside of the planes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday. The cost to see the aircraft up close is $12 for adults and $6 for kids 12 and younger.
World War II veterans can enter the exhibit for free.
Flights aboard the heavy bombers are $425 per person.
Flights aboard fast and highly-maneuverable P-51 are $2,200 for a half-hour or $3,200 for an hour.
P-51 pilot Jim Harley said the Wings of Freedom planes left from Everett’s Paine Field early Monday.
The planes will leave Port Angeles for the Skagit Valley on Wednesday, followed by a weekend stop at Seattle’s Boeing Field.
Harley said the P-51 Mustang is “the airplane that everyone wants to fly.”
Port Angeles tour-stop coordinator Alan Barnard offered complimentary flights on the B-17 to Isaiah and his father, Mike Brown, along with Joe Sommers and sons Bill and Robert.
Barnard surprised the Browns by handing them release forms at the airport.
“My wife and Alan pulled a fast one on me,” Mike Brown said after the flight.
“It was a pretty sweet surprise. I never thought I’d get to fly in one of these.”
Barnard said he reserved a seat for young Isaiah because he is “absolutely nuts about warbirds.”
Asked what he liked about the B-17, Isaiah said: “Mostly the age, and what they did.”
The Flying Fortress was used extensively in World War II bombing missions against German targets. It dropped more bombs than any other U.S. aircraft during the war.
“This is one of the noisiest guns on the aircraft, right here,” said Joe Sommers, as he pointed to the rear machine gun.
Joe Sommers’ sons surprised him with news about the flight on Father’s Day.
“There’s nothing like flying the old beaters,” Joe Sommers said of the B-17.
Isaiah Brown said it takes at least 10 years to restore a B-17.
“These guys [with the Collings Foundation] should really be held in high esteem for what they do to keep these things flying,” said Mike Brown, who flew in the Coast Guard and compared the sound of a B-17 to that of an Albatross seaplane.
“It’s not an easy job. . . . These are high-maintenance aircraft.”
A crowd of about 150 lined the airport fence to see the planes land, many of whom filed into the airport for a closer look.
Other took photographs of the planes making their final approach from the baseball fields east of the main runway.
Harley said the Wings of Freedom tour stops at 110 cities during a 10-month season.
Port Angeles has hosted the vintage warplanes six times since 2004.
Joe Sommers said the B-17 he flew Monday was the “same bird” as the bombers he flew in the Korean War.
After being thanked for his service in the military, Joe Sommers said:
“Well, I’m home.
“That’s all that counts, to come home.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.