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Issue date: June 02, 2000

Greg Kozocas

CRowd gathers around the B-17G Flying Fortress during show at Moffett Field last weekend.

Jack Burke, right, a B-17 crewman from 1943 to '44, tells a visitor how he operated a machine gun in the lower bubble turret.

Vintage bombers drop in at Moffett Vintage bombers drop in at Moffett (June 02, 2000)

Memorial Day weekend display a popular stop for area residents

By Greg Kozocas

The Collings Foundation brought its flying museum to Moffett Field over the Memorial Day weekend, giving visitors an opportunity to explore two vintage bombers that saw action over Europe during World War II.

The "Bombers over Moffett" event featured tours of a B-24J Liberator and a B-17G Flying Fortress. The two vintage bombers arrived on the runways at Moffett Field last Friday.

People of all ages visited the airfield to climb through the tight crevices of the bombers to look at the 1940s-style cockpit and weaponry and learn about the planes' operations. Although the lines were long due to a large turnout, visitors were not only able to tour the big beauties, but also learn what being in battle was like from pilots and crew who actually flew the bombers during war.

In past years, the Collings Foundation chose San Jose International Airport for its annual show. However, because of increasing air traffic at the airport this year, Moffett Field officials agreed to host the event.

"It was a dream come true to be at Moffett," said Kory Stendell, a representative of the Collings Foundation. "Moffett Field has so much history that it only seemed right for us to be there."

Stendell said this exhibition is particularly interesting because out of the 18,479 B-24 Liberators built during World War II, the one on exhibit at Moffett is the only one still in flight.

The B-17G which visited Moffett Field is one of about 10 still flown. The "Flying Fortress" was well-known for its high-altitude strategic bombing and its ability to absorb tremendous punishment during battle.

Jack Burke, a local retired airman who flew 27 missions as a ball-turret gunner, explained to a group of visitors what the job was really like.

"It's an unknown position being a gunner, and many people are curious," Burke said. "This is a great opportunity on Memorial Day weekend to come out and let people know how we operated in a very odd situation," he added, referring to the claustrophobic ball underneath the plane in which the gunners had to sit for hours during the flight.

Retired pilots Carl M. Clark and Walter Hughes also answered questions about how bombers played an important role during the war.

Hughes said that the B-24 was an amazingly fun plane to fly. "Several people here today think this hunk of tin was difficult to fly, but for a fairly large bomber, it was quite responsive," he commented, reminding visitors that autopilot had not yet been invented and all flying was done manually.

Hughes added that the B-24 on exhibit at Moffett had a lot of history behind it. The plane was initially owned by the British and then flown by the Indian Air Force in the 1960s. The Collings Foundation bought the bomber in 1984.

In addition to the tours of the planes, the event also had a souvenir table where people could buy memorabilia ranging from 6-inch shells from the bomber's guns to historic photos and T-shirts with pictures of the planes.

Those who had a little extra spending money could donate $350 and take a flight over the Golden Gate bridge in one of the bombers. This treat was offered on all three nights at 6 p.m.

The Collings Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Stow, Mass., which purchases and restores unique aircraft. All proceeds from the event went to maintaining the vintage airplanes and buying the expensive fuel required to fly them. When not touring the nation, the two bombers are based in Florida.

The foundation was so pleased with the interest shown in this year's event that it hopes to return to Moffett for next year's Memorial Day weekend celebration.


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