Really Cool World War ll Aircraft on Display in Florence
JOHN D. RUSSELL
FLORENCE, S.C. – World War II aircraft swooped down from above in Florence as they were welcomed by skyward pointing fingers, binoculars and awe-inspiring stares.
Right on schedule, the B-24 Liberator and B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers, along with a lone P-51 Mustang fighter escort, touched down Monday at the Florence Regional Airport as part of the Wings of Freedom Tour.
The P-51 dual-control Mustang is the only one of its type in existence, and the B-24 is the world’s only fully restored and flying Consolidated B-24J Liberator.
Stephanie Gray Thomas, of Sumter, along with her two sons, Gregory and Sam, waited in eager anticipation at the fence as the B-24J Liberator came into view and landed. Thomas has a special attachment to the plane named “Witchcraft.” Decades ago, her great-grandfather, S.T. Gray Jr., actually piloted the original “Witchcraft.”
“It’s amazing these planes are still flying,” Stephanie said. “It’s quite an honor to be here and be able to see this. It is a huge testament and really connects us to the past. You can’t get this from books.”
Although he never met his great-great-grandfather, Gregory was all smiles as he walked inside the plane and seemed to be awestruck walking around the plane.
“I think it’s really cool, because my great-great-grandpa was a pilot of these,” he said as he looked at the plane with wide eyes. “I’m so proud. It’s an honor to be here and see this plane.”
The original “Witchcraft” flew the first combat mission of the 467th Bomb Group on April 10, 1944. In one year, the plane flew 130 combat missions with different crews. “Witchcraft” is said to have never once turned back while on a mission, and no crewmen were injured or killed. Its last mission was almost exactly a year after its maiden combat mission, and also the last flown by the bomb group. Like many B-24s after the war, the plane was scrapped in October of 1945, in Altus, Oklahoma.
Jim Goolsby of the Wings of Freedom Tour piloted “Witchcraft” on Monday into Florence from Greenville. He said the three planes represent a part of our national history that is being forgotten.
“I think also a lot of appreciation for what that generation did is being forgotten, too,” Goolsby said. “People should remember. It’s an important part of not only our history but a world history at war. These machines represent those people, because that is all that is really left. They are fast disappearing. We need to show appreciation to them and what they did, because it wasn’t easy.”
The Wings of Freedom Tour will be at the Florence Regional Airport near the air traffic control tower on from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday. Walk-through tours of the aircraft are $12 for adults and $6 for children 12 and under. A 30-minute in the bombers is $450. A flight in the P-51 Mustang costs $2,200. All of the money raised from the tour – sponsored by the Collings Foundation, a non-profit 501c-3 – is used to keep up the aircraft.
- JOHN D. RUSSELL FLORENCE, S.C. – World War II a...