Jul. 3—Two iconic veterans of World War II will fly into Glacier International Airport this week, giving aviation enthusiasts a chance at an up close and personal look at a pair of America's most celebrated aircraft.
Part of the Commemorative Air Force, the Airbase Arizona Flying Museum is bringing in a B-25 Mitchell on Tuesday with a B-17 Flying Fortress to follow on Thursday. Both will be available for viewing by the public with the purchase of a ticket. Those interested can also purchase a flight into the wild blue yonder aboard one of the aircraft.
Mike Mueller, rides director of the volunteer organization, said the Kalispell area stop is part of the group's Flying Legends of Victory summer tour, which will see the airplanes drop into 19 cities. Often, aircraft like these are available for viewing from the outside, he said. Not these two warbirds.
"The key is that a lot of these airplanes are typically behind barricades and we want people to get up and close with the airplanes," he said. "People can go through them, look at the insides, look around. They can purchase rides as well."
Of the two airplanes, Mueller said the B-25 is the group's combat veteran. "Maid in the Shade" flew 15 missions over Italy and what was then known as Yugoslavia out of Corsica. Formally classified as a B-25J, it is a later variant of the same aircraft that Lt. Col. James Doolittle famously flew on an air raid of Tokyo in 1942.
Meanwhile, "Sentimental Journey," the group's B-17, ended up in the Pacific theater, but never saw action, Mueller said. Although a self-admitted fan of the Mitchell, Mueller admits that the Flying Fortress immediately springs to most people's minds when they think of the aerial combat of World War II.
The Airbase Arizona Flying Museum's Mitchell and Fly Fortress harken from an era of history that Mueller worries is fast fading.
"We believe that the history really comes alive when you can get up and touch the airplanes, watch them start and fly in the aircraft," he said.
Hollywood, he said, tends to make the plans — particularly the B-17 — look a lot bigger and roomier than the reality. For air crews, going on a mission meant spending hours in cramped, unheated and unpressurized aircraft, warding off frostbite and waiting for someone to start shooting at you, Mueller said.
While visitors on the ground can get a sense of the small confines of the aircraft, there's nothing like hearing and feeling it in flight, he said.
"Flying in these airplanes, it's a visceral experience," Mueller said. "They're loud, there is wind blowing through the airplane while you're flying, there are no comfortable seats ... It's a different type of experience."
Those who poke around the aircraft on the ground leave with newfound appreciation for the aviators of the 1940s. For those who go up for a ride, the trip is unforgettable, Mueller said.
"They come back and say, 'That was amazing. I never thought it would be like that, flying in these airplanes,'" he said.
And that's exactly what the team at Airbase Arizona Flying Museum is looking for.
The B-25 is scheduled to land at 11 a.m., July 5 with the B-17 expected to arrive sometime on July 7. The aircraft are open for public viewing between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday and between 2 and 6 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets for tours, which run $15 per person or $30 for a family of four, are available at the gate.
Flights are scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets range from $375 to $850 and are available at https://www.azcaf.org/location/kalispell-mt-tour-stop/.
News Editor Derrick Perkins can be reached at 758-4430 or email@example.com.