In honor of World War II veterans, rare aircraft from the Wings of Freedom tour landed in San Bernardino in a flying tribute to the flight crews who flew them, the ground crews who maintained them, the workers who built them and the soldiers, sailors and airmen they helped protect.
A vintage Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress "Nine O Nine" WWII Heavy Bomber sat on the tarmac outside the Executive Terminal, while a silver North American P-51 Mustang glinted in the noonday sun.
About a dozen veterans and airplane buffs greeted the airplanes, which looked like pages torn from a history book.
On Monday, a B-24 Liberator, which was scheduled to accompany them, needed a new part for its No. 2 Engine, but flew into San Bernardino on Tuesday morning for the last two days of the three-day exhibit.
The Wings of Freedom Tour, presented by The Collings Foundation, will be on display from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday before flying on to San Diego, then Carlsbad, followed by Ramona.
Thirty-minute flight experiences are scheduled before public ground tours.
Frank Hale, a volunteer pilot from Kalispel, Mont., flew the B-17 in from Burbank Airport.
The airplane is easy and smooth to fly, Hale said.
"The landing was smooth because gravity did most the work. "
The B-17 and B-24 were the backbone of the American effort during the war from 1942 to 1945 and were famous for their ability to sustain damage and still accomplish the mission.
The P-51 Mustang fighter plane was affectionately known as the bombers' "Little Friend" - saving countless crews from attacking axis fighters.
Clark Labbe, pilot of the B-24, had hitched a ride on the Mustang while the B-24 was repaired, an offer he said he couldn't resist.
"You give these old airplanes love, they give you love back," he said.
The tour covers about 140 stops in 38 states, according to Hale.
"We attract a lot of buffs, but we really enjoy seeing the veterans who flew these airplanes," Hale said.
Phil Zoulko, a Navy veteran from Highland, said he liked the old airplanes but added he liked all airplanes.
World War II veteran and P-38 pilot Raymond L. Vasquez, who survived the terrible Batann Death March, joined the flight to San Bernardino Monday with two generations of his family.
Vasquez, 87, who lives in Old Town Rancho Cucamonga, said he will be back to spend more time with the exhibit if his injured leg would let him.
"I like seeing the old airplanes," he smiled.
The nonprofit Collings Foundation is educational and has as its goal enabling Americans to learn more about World War II through "living history" events, said foundation spokesman Hunter Chaney.
"How do we remember and engage younger people? Interaction envelops you in history and we hope to excite them to the point of wanting to learn more," Chaney said.
The public can tour the aircraft on the ground: $12 for adults; $6 for children; World War II veterans are admitted free; 30-minute flights in the aircraft will be available in the morning for $425 and is tax deductible.
SBIA, the former Norton Air Force Base, is at 105 N. Leland Norton Way, San Bernardino.
For more information, call 800-568-8924.