Falcon Field In Mesa Offering Air Tours In WWII Planes

Falcon Field In Mesa Offering Air Tours In WWII Planes

Falcon Field in Mesa offering air tours in WWII planes

Mark Nothaft, Special for The Republic | azcentral.com9:25 a.m. MST November 11, 2014

Relive the thrills and chills of World War II in America's legendary bombers at Falcon Field commemorative museum in Mesa.

PNI sev 1108 Mesa war birds
(Photo: Michael Chow/The Republic)

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Visitors can take a living history flight on a B-25, C-47, Stearman or other war birds
  • The museum offers flights in several vintage war birds
  • Read more at www.azcaf.org
  • The Commemorative Air Force Airbase is at Falcon Field in Mesa
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Imagine an American bomber lifting off from its base on the island of Corsica, speeding over the Mediterranean en route to targets in Mussolini's Italy and German-occupied Yugoslavia. The B-25's twin engines roar to cruising speed, as a German-made Messerschmitt B-109 appears on the horizon and fires."We've been hit, Captain. Abort mission!" you yell, re-creating a scene out of World War II aboard one of the Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona "war birds."Based at Falcon Field in Mesa, CAF Airbase Arizona operates air tours aboard one of several vintage aircraft that saw active duty, including a B-25 complete with patched bullet holes.A B-17 "Flying Fortress" bomber also is available for flights, as is a Douglas C-47, Beechcraft C-45 Expeditor and others."(Passengers) can't experience combat, but they can experience the aircraft," Airbase leader and aviation historian Larry Turner says. "We are the largest operator of war birds in the world."Young people today have forgotten World War II," the Army veteran says, and the war-birds program keeps the past alive as a "living history flight experience," as it's termed in military circles.
"The planes are still configured for combat, so passengers experience what airmen experienced in the 1940s," Turner explains. "They are loud and drafty, not sealed like modern planes."
The war-birds program is part of CAF Airbase Arizona's mission of preserving the aircraft and "remembering the service of our military aviators," Turner says, noting that Falcon Field trained more than 2,500 Royal Air Force aviators for Britain during WWII.Once you know which plane you want to experience, the tour lasts about an hour and a half. The Airbase requests that passengers arrive 30 minutes to an hour before the scheduled flight time for a crew briefing and to fill out paperwork. History and anecdotes of the plane are shared. Choose from nose, waist or other seats.Your heart beats quicker and palms sweat as you buckle up, the 15 missions that the B-25 flew high in your mind. The engines start up. Life is again breathed into this symbol of military might. It's louder than expected and earplugs are provided."The nose is the best place to be in the airplane, the large areas up front," suggests pilot and Army veteran Jerry Briggs. "The tail gunner (area), too."Briggs started as a paratrooper, jumping out of planes during the 1960s, learned to fly during college and retired from American Airlines in 2004. He holds eight different "type" certifications, which means he can fly just about anything.
PNI sev 1108 Mesa war birds
Jerry Briggs sits in the B25 he pilots at Falcon Field in Mesa November 4, 2014. The Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona provides flights in the B25 and other vintage aircraft.(Photo: Michael Chow / Michael Chow/The Republic)
The run-up and take-off of the B-25 showcases the plane's speed and capability. "(The plane) was built as a war machine," Briggs says. "It's a fast airplane, closer to being a fighter airplane."The in-flight tour lasts 20 to 25 minutes and loops around the craggy peaks of the Superstition Mountains and the lakes in the far East Valley at about 500 feet, saguaros seemingly within reach."We have to be at least 1,000 feet above ground in the city and 500 feet outside of town. We go lower in desert areas," Briggs says, adding that "we've never had anyone (who is) disappointed or wanted their money back.""We have all kinds of people come out for rides," Briggs says "We're really impressed when veterans come out."He says people who worked on the planes, such as former "Rosie the Riveters," love the war-bird program, in addition to relatives of those who served and those who just like to be around old planes. "People want to take it off their bucket list," he says.Cost and number of passengers should be considered. The B-17, for example, holds up to eight passengers — two in the nose, three in the radio room behind the bomb bay and three in the waist-gunner section. Cost is $850 for the nose and $425 for each of the other seats. Climbing ladders or crawling into smaller spaces poses challenges as well.The B-25 accommodates up to seven passengers at $395 to $650 per seat. The jump seat behind the cockpit with access to the nose costs $650."We had one woman come out whose father sat in the nose and she wanted to sit in the nose," Briggs recalls. "She came out with her dad's old leather headgear and got the thrill of her life."Fly a 'war bird'What: Passengers can schedule a flight in vintage World War II aircraft.When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through May.Where: Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona at Falcon Field, 2017 N. Greenfield Road, Mesa.Details: 480-924-1940 or www.azcaf.org.


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