Fighting machines of past coming here
May 22, 2003
They were noisy by today’s standards, but they sure could fly.
And fly they will over South Lake Tahoe beginning May 28 when a national aviation group will bring the World War II B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator to the Lake Tahoe Airport.
As part of the Wings of Freedom, the Collings Foundation is touring California with the planes to recognize the aircraft that flew over enemy skies during WWII and to honor veterans and educate citizens about the most significant conflict of the 20th century.
For retired Air Force Col. Dan Muat, who makes his home on the South Shore and in Livermore, the visit will rekindle memories of the 30 missions he flew as a B-24 pilot over Germany and France, including one where the plane was riddled with bullets from enemy fire.
“The plane is big, heavy and is like flying a truck,” Muat said.
With a wingspan of 110 feet and weighing 62,000 pounds when it’s fully loaded, the aircraft seems crude compared with what Air Force pilots fly today.
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“The B-2 they have today is superior,” Muat said.
In August 1944, Muat, who was piloting behind the bombardier, nearly lost the plane when the Germans opened fire from 155mm guns on the ground.
With 10 men aboard including Muat, the B-24 was hit several times, knocking out one of its four engines and the hydraulics.
After the plane dropped its payload of several 500 pound bombs, he turned the plane around and made an emergency landing in a field in England. Now 80 years old, Muat recalls the near-disaster with a sense of duty.
“I’m not one of those heroes,” he said earnestly. “We felt the hits, dropped what we had and headed toward England. We did what we had to do. We had a job to do that had to be done.”
Muat climbed back into the seat of the plane two years ago as a passenger. He said the 30-minute ride was cold and noisy and not what he remembered it to be.
“When you’re 21 and flying it, that’s one thing, but I was near 80 years old when I went up,” he said. “It was a lot noisier than I remember.”
Airport Manager Mike Dikun said that it is stories like Muat’s experience on the aircraft that the Collings Foundation hopes to honor and preserve.
“World War II was the single greatest challenge to freedom in the 20th century,” he said. “Through the 46 months of war, over 300,000 American soldiers, sailors and aviators died defending the beliefs they held dear, with many more sacrificing in other ways. These men become our heroes through their struggles and came home to a grateful nation.”
The aircraft will be displayed at the airport terminal from 3 to 7 p.m. on May 28; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on May 29 and from 9 am. to 1 p.m. on May 30.
Both aircraft will depart the Lake Tahoe Airport on May 30th at 1 p.m. proceeding to Mercury Air Center at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport for a three-day stop, departing on June 1, at noon for Redding.
Also, South Shore resident and pilot Gene Akers will bring his restored WWII BT-14 trainer plane used to train pilots for the B-17 and B-24 to program.
The aircraft will depart from the Lake Tahoe Airport at 1 p.m., on May 30, and proceed to Reno Tahoe International Airport for a display from 2:30 to 7 p.m.
Visitors may tour the inside of both aircraft or can take a 30-minute flight.
The foundation requests a donation of $8 for adults and $4 for children to tour the aircraft. Flights are available for a $400 tax-deductible donation. Call (978) 562-9182 for reservations.
For more information, contact Dikun or Cathy Weil at (530) 541-0480 or check out the Web site at http://www.collingsfoundation.org