By Terry Stephens
Several hundred people toured the Collings Foundation’s rare, historic B-17, B-24 and B-25 warplanes at Paine Field (PAE) in late June. The three-day event was especially memorable to several people who boarded the planes for flights over Snohomish County, according to Dave Waggoner, airport director.
“We had beautiful weather and spectacular evenings,” said Waggoner, who hosted an evening social gathering for the public and members of the Everett, Mukilteo, Marysville Tulalip and South Snohomish County chambers of commerce during the Wings of Freedom tour to the Pacific Northwest. “I counted the lines three times that night and saw more than 120 people each time. It was the first time the B-25’s been here and one of the largest crowds in years for the foundation’s visit.”
Among the hundreds who climbed through the planes to discover—or remember—the planes that helped to win World War II, were families honoring grandparents who flew bombing missions and fought air battles in the European and Pacific theaters.
“This year, we had a really heartwarming experience when we found out three children of a former B-25 pilot had come to see the plane, all wearing their grandfather’s original uniforms,” Waggoner said. “They had planned to bring him to see the plane, but he passed away two days before the event. They decided to come anyway, to honor him for his role in the war.”
Tom Koney of Seattle said it had been hard on his children—6-year-old Camille, 9-year-old Kylie and 11-year-old Nicholas—when his father, William F. Koney, died June 19 at 89. A native of Michigan and a former attorney and state judge, he had lived with Koney’s family for the past two years.
“He flew 58 combat missions with B-25s in the Mediterranean Theater with the 12th Air Force, 310th Bombardment Group, 57th Bomb Wing,” Koney said. “He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and other medals. He left law school to join the Army Air Corps the day after Pearl Harbor and spent four years in the service.”
Starting out in brown Army Air Corps uniforms, he left the military as a captain in blue Air Force uniforms, Koney said, adding that his father remained in the Air Force Reserve for 23 years.
“He used to tell the children stories about his service and how lucky he was to make it out alive,” he said. “The kids climbed into the nose of the B-25 so we could take pictures of them. I took them out of school for the day, because they were so upset over his death. It really helped them to take this trip as a way to remember their grandfather.”
The United States built nearly 10,000 B-25 Mitchells, a plane with the distinction of being the only American military aircraft named for a person, Army Air Force Gen. Billy Mitchell. It also became the only twin-engine bomber to fly from an aircraft carrier, when 16 of the planes took off from the USS Hornet for a daring bombing raid on Japan.
Of more than 12,000 B-17s built during the war years, only eight are currently flying today. The B-24 was the most produced warplane in World War II, with more than 19,000 rolling off assembly lines. Today the Collings’ Liberator is the only one in the world still flying.
After touring for more than 15 years, the Collings Foundation bombers have surpassed 1,800 stops on their national circuits, which include about 120 cities each year. Nearly four million people have participated in onboard tours and flights.
The Collings Foundation is a nonprofit education organization in Stow, Mass., founded in 1979 to provide “living history” events throughout the U.S. each year. The foundation has restored the aircraft to near original condition, to provide authentic education experiences on their tours, as well as to honor the veterans who served on them in the global fight to preserve freedom. The flight fees of $325 to $425 per person help keep the Collings planes flying year after year.
For more tour information, visit [http://www.collingsfoundation.org].