This is the 28th year that the Wings of Freedom Tour has traveled across the country to educate visitors about national history by allowing visitors to tour the interior of the planes, have conversations with veterans and go on flights in the aircraft. The Collings Foundation, a nonprofit educational foundation founded in 1979, owns the planes and is the organizer of the tour.
"It's a moving museum," said John Wilberding, the local coordinator for the tour's stop at the Aurora airport.
Each year, the tour travels to an average 100 cities in over 35 states. The foundation estimates that over 4 million people see the aircraft annually.
Each of the four planes has a storied history, according to the Collings Foundation, with each aircraft playing an important role in the American efforts in Europe and Japan.
The foundation's 1944 vintage Consolidated B-24J Liberator is painted as Witchcraft, an Eighth Air Force bomber that flew a record 140 missions over Europe as part of the 467th Bombardment Group.
A Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress known as the Nine-O-Nine is an Eighth Air Force, 91st Bombardment Group heavy bomber. The B-17 was the companion of the B-24 in thousands of wartime bombing and reconnaissance missions. According to the Collings Foundation, together those planes were the backbone of the daylight strategic bombing campaign of World War II.
The third plane, a B-25 Mitchell, is a mid-range bomber made famous for flying the 1942 Doolittle Raid, an air raid on Tokyo and other places on the island of Honshu that served as a retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is painted in honor of a Fifth Air Force, 345th Bombardment Group, 500th Bombardment Squadron bomber that flew in the Air Apaches called Tondelayo.
Joining the three bombers was a P-51C Mustang escort fighter called Betty Jane. B-51 aircraft were affectionately nicknamed by the bomber crews as their "Little Friends." According to the Collings Foundation, the P-51 Mustang and the pilots who flew them saved many lives in the skies and on the ground and helped turn the tide of World War II. The P-51, according to the Collings Foundation, is considered one of the finest fighter aircraft in the history of aviation.
The Wings of Freedom Tour has the goal of being a flying tribute to the flight crews who flew the aircraft, the ground crews who maintained them, the workers who built them, the soldiers, sailors and airmen they helped protect, and the citizens and families that share the benefits of the freedom that they helped preserve.
On Friday, June 16, the opening day of the Aurora visit, about 100 visitors flocked to the airport tarmac to explore the interior of the aircrafts, closely examine the exteriors of the planes, and even go on flights. Children and senior citizens alike were brought together by their interest in aircrafts.
Harmony Kilby traveled with her family all the way from east Multnomah County to see the aircraft. Her son, Hugo, is just under 2 years old and already loves airplanes — his first birthday was airplane-themed.
"It was worth the trip," Kilby said.
The aircraft have already flown away from Aurora, but they won't be too far off. The planes will be at the Bremerton National Airport in Washington from until noon June 21. The aircraft will then fly to Port Angeles, Wash., where they'll be on display from 2 p.m. June 21 to noon June 23. Then they'll fly to the Seattle Museum of Flight, where they'll stay from 2 p.m. June 23 to 5 p.m. June 25.
For more information and tour dates, go to collingsfoundation.org.