At air show, WWII veterans revisit planes they once flew in
Oct. 23, 2015
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — This weekend's airshow in New Orleans, put on by The National World War II Museum and the Commemorative Air Force, which maintains WWII aircraft, will feature planes like the B-29 Superfortress, largely used in the Pacific for long-range bombing runs, and one of the B-25s, a medium-range plane often used in Europe. The Associated Press talked to some of veterans who got to ride again in the planes, this time just for fun:
— As the B-25 prepared for takeoff, Victor J. Hancock, 92, remembered when he was at the controls: "I deliberately closed my eyes and envisioned I was in Corsica taking off in formation." Hancock flew 22 missions over Italy and Austria as a B-25 pilot, often targeting the Brenner Pass, which the Germans used to move troops and supplies into Italy.
"The Germans were just as determined to keep us from doing it," Hancock said, recalling flights with anti-aircraft guns "biting on our heels." During this flight he sat in the front, directly behind the pilots, looking out over the controls and the skies above. When the plane touched down, Hancock complimented the pilots on a nice landing.
— Martin Biener secretly hoped he'd be able to fly the B-25, nicknamed the Yellow Rose, that carried the six veterans over the skies of New Orleans. Instead, the 93-year-old former pilot, who flew 51 missions over Europe, sat near the middle of the plane next to the gunner position, and, in a sign of how far technology has changed, whipped out his iPhone to capture the experience. Some of the other veterans took selfies.
The light-hearted fun was a far cry from his worst flight in a B-25. A cluster bomb had failed to drop when the bomb bay doors opened but it was still live and if it hit the plane, it would explode. Biener climbed from the cockpit to the bomb bay, and, as a member of the crew held him, cut the bomb loose: "I wasn't going to let anyone else hang over an open bomb bay door."
— During the pre-flight briefing, the pilots let the veterans know where the emergency exits were located. But Bernie Peters, 92, was already intimately familiar with the exit hatch atop the cockpit. During a rough landing in the war with only one working brake, his plane rocketed over the end of the runway before stopping in a vineyard. Everyone piled out, fearing a gas leak.
Flying in a B-25 once again was a "real thrill," Peters said. He sat in front of the plane behind the pilots, headphones on, listening to the chatter as he looked out the windows. He spoke fondly of the plane that he piloted for 49 missions over the Brenner Pass: "It was really sturdy."