The deep thrum of the four engines, the cramped, tight spaces, walking across the bomb bay on a 10 inch metal strip, sticking your hand out the window at the waist gunner position – these were experiences I had on my flight aboard “Witchcraft” a WWII B-24 Liberator bomber. I was able to experience this thrilling flight when the Collings Foundation brought the Wings of Freedom tour to Chicago Executive airport in July.
I had always wanted to fly on one of these vintage aircraft, and I’m glad I got the chance. Witchcraft is the only flying B-24 in the world, and the flight made me appreciate the sacrifice that the airmen made during WWII. In many places within the aircraft, there was literally no place to turn around. And you had to watch were you stepped – the nose wheel doors and the bomb bay are designed to give-way to weight – not a nice thing to happen if you’re a few thousand feet up.
I was able to move along the length of the plane in flight – from the tail gunner’s position to the nose gunner’s turret. This was not your normal flight experience – I mean there was a three to four inch gap between the fuselage and the retracted ball turret – looking down I could see houses, roads and trees passing below. When you get to the waist gunner’s positions – with the 50 caliber machine guns still in place – you get a feeling for what it might have been like fighting for your life and your crew mates as you fended off Axis fighters. These planes weren’t pressurized – crewmen had to wear special suits and needed oxygen masks to survive the frigid temperatures at altitude.
The ride on Witchcraft was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I won’t soon forget. Who knows how long this plane will keep flying – it did see actual service in China and Burma with the RAF, and spare parts and expertise are dwindling away. Enjoy the pictures below or check out the Flying in a B-24 video page.