War birds return

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Like swallows to Capistrano, World War II bombers are returning to the city of Kenai.

The "Wings of Freedom" tour of a Boeing B-17 and a Consolidated B-24 will alight at the Kenai Municipal Airport July 3, carrying two area World War II veterans.

The two vets will be selected by organizers of the Collings Founda-tion visit, said Kevin Hubbard, an air traffic controller at the Kenai tower.

"We've left it up to the vet groups to make a list of names, and they've asked us to have a Civil Air Patrol cadet draw two of them out of a hat," Hubbard said.

Era Aviation has agreed to fly the two veterans to Kodiak so they can hitch a ride back aboard the bombers.

He said the veterans whose names are put in the hat will have had some sort of connection to either the B-17 Flying Fortress or the B-24 Liberator.

"They don't have to have been the pilot of one, but maybe they worked on the plane, or their father flew one," Hubbard said.

The planes will be on static display the evening of July 3, all day July 4 and early July 5, and will provide rides in the evenings for $350.

"People get sticker shock when they hear that price," Hubbard said. "But for a half-hour trip, I don't think that's too bad."

There is hope the planes will fly over Kenai's Fourth of July Parade, but that depends on ticket sales or corporate sponsorship.

"We are very, very excited and privileged to have them over the Fourth of July, and we are hoping they will fly over the parade," said airport manager Becky Cronkhite. "But we're going to have to sell six tickets for each plane, or get a corporate sponsor to pay for their fuel."

Shuttle buses will run to and from the Kenai park strip to the static display area near the control tower after the parade.

Hubbard said he is in the process of contacting operators of other vintage aircraft and hopes to have them on display as well. They include Era's Douglas DC-3, Everts Air Fuel's Curtiss C-46 and the state Division of Forestry's KC-97 water bomber. He said the control tower and the Federal Aviation Administration's Flight Service Center may have an information booth on the tarmac, as well.

"The fact that Collings decided to restore and fly these planes is a big deal," Hubbard said. "They could have just put them on static display somewhere, but this way they show a lot more people. It's a moving museum."

He hopes Collings can be persuaded to come to Kenai every summer.

"We're trying to make it a bigger and better deal each year," Hubbard said.

"We're going to focus on our local veterans even more this year," Cronkhite said. "We hope to have them tell some stories."

Full price tickets can be bought by calling Henry Knackstedt at 283-2853. Raffle tickets for $10 each can be had by calling the Alaska Flying Network at 283-5700 or Cronkhite at 283-7951.

"One raffle ticket will be drawn for every 35 sold, so if you buy early, your name stays in and the odds are pretty good," Hubbard said.

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