View Full Version : CARLSBAD: Fighter pilots share WWII experiences

04-25-08, 07:48 AM
CARLSBAD: Fighter pilots share WWII experiences

By JOHN RAIFSNIDER - For the North County Times

CARLSBAD ---- As he slowly made his way from the cockpit of the World War II-era B-17 Flying Fortress bomber Thursday morning at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, 89-year-old Lakeside resident Robert Barney wondered aloud:

"How in the world did I manage to evacuate out of one of these things?" Barney said, as he ducked around gun mounts and gingerly moved across a 8-inch-wide catwalk between the cockpit and bomb bay of a B-17 similar to the one he flew on April 29, 1944.

"I guess you can move a lot faster when there are flames chasing after you," Barney said, recalling the day the aircraft he was piloting was shot out of the sky above Berlin.

Barney and several other World War II veterans were passengers Thursday in the vintage B-17 and two of its companion aircraft from El Cajon to Carlsbad, where the planes will remain on display through the weekend.

The B-17 was among hundreds of Allied aircraft on a daylight mission that day in 1944. About 60 miles from Berlin, Barney's bomber group became isolated from the rest of the England-based 8th Air Force bomber stream and was attacked by 200 Nazi fighter planes.

"We were lucky, really, because we only lost one man in our crew ---- our radio operator ---- the rest of us were all captured and became prisoners of war," he said. "We all survived the prison camp at Stalag Luft No. 3, and we all made it safely back to the U.S."

Another 8th Air Force B-17 pilot, Ed Davidson tells a similar story.

Returning from a bombing mission over France on Jan. 5, 1944, Davidson's B-17 faced 50 Nazi fighter planes head-on, and after taking on heavy machine-gun fire, he ditched the badly damaged aircraft into the sea near the town of Biscayne. His copilot was killed instantly from machine-gun fire and four other crew members drowned.

Davidson said he and the four other survivors of the 10-man crew were taken to Stalag Luft No. 1 near the Baltic coast as POWs. Davidson and his crew were among hundreds of airmen liberated by Russian troops 16 months later.

More than 60 years after their release from captivity, Barney and Davidson were retelling their harrowing tales of combat and survival Thursday to visitors of the "Wings of Freedom Tour." The 55-stop nationwide sweep by the three airplanes began in mid-January in Florida and concludes in Colorado in early July.

Barney and Davidson are two of several San Diego-area World War II combat veterans who are talking with visitors at the tour stops about the contributions and the historical significance their B-17 aircrews ---- and others aboard aircraft such as the B-24 Liberator and B-25 Mitchell ---- made in attaining victory over Germany in 1945.

Last month, courtesy of the Collings Foundation ---- a Stow, Mass., nonprofit organization ---- and the "Wings of Freedom Tour" organizers, both men flew in a B-17 for the first time since 1945.

"It was great to get back into one of these aircraft," said Davidson, 85, a retired American Airlines instructor pilot.

"It's also good to see foundations restoring these aircraft and flying them around the United States, because these aircraft helped make history ---- they are history. So many people today don't realized what these airplanes and the crews that flew them really did during the war and the sacrifices they made."

After a 15-minute flight Thursday aboard the B-17 from Gillespie Field to Palomar Airport, Barney and Davidson were met by dozens of World War II aircraft enthusiasts, including Escondido's Diane Hoff and her family.

"So many people these days have no idea of the scope of World War II, it's not something they teach much in school," said Hoff, who with her husband, Randy, brought their three boys to get a close look at the vintage aircraft and meet some of the men that flew them.

"We wanted our boys to see what the men back then, that were fighting for our freedoms, fighting to protect our country, and for our way of life, had to go through. This is just a reminder for all of us that freedom isn't free, that a lot of men have given their lives for this country," Hoff said.

"We want our boys to grow up with the integrity, the morals and the character of the men that flew these planes. That's why we're here today."

The Flying Fortress, a B-24 Liberator and a B-25 Mitchell will be on display and will be available for rides through the weekend at Palomar Airport. Static display tours are $12 for adults and $6 for children.

Visit www.collingsfoundation.org<http://www.collingsfoundation.org/> for more information regarding flight times and costs.

What you need to know

The Wings of Freedom, organized by the Collings Foundation, will be at the McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad through Monday.

The planes will be available for ground tours ($10 for adults, $5 for children), and will also offer daily 30- to 60-minute flights, with tickets starting at $325.

Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and 9 a.m. to noon Monday.

The airport is at 2210 Palomar Airport Road, just west of El Camino Real in Carlsbad.

Visit www.collingsfoundation.org.