"They'd have 100 hours tops" in World War II, said Marcy Rice of the Estrella Warbirds Museum in Paso Robles, before they went into combat. Rice won her Wednesday flight on the B-24 in a raffle, and her husband, a member of the museum board, is a former Marine aviator who flew F-4 Phantom jets in Vietnam.
The planes carry a folding pavilion, souvenirs, books, T-shirts and other memorabilia, along with ladders and orange cones to mark off the display areas when they land.
"We're like a couple of gypsies flying around the country," Caroline Collings said.
Nearly all of the airplanes in the foundation's collection are flyable or in the process of being made airworthy, she said.
"We believe in keeping the aircraft capable of flight. Like anything mechanical, an airplane likes to be flown," she said.
Keeping the planes in the air involves "constant maintenance, inspections, preventive maintenance," Rob Collings said, and a crew of excellent mechanics.
Airline pilots come up to him, he said, and tell him that the foundation's flight maintenance "is well above commercial grade."
The entourage brings two spare engines for each plane and has other spare parts warehoused and ready to be flown in by FedEx if needed.
All three bombers are unpressurized, just as they were in World War II, though Collings seldom flies them above 12,500 feet, compared to the 20,000 to 30,000-foot ceilings the planes were capable of, with crews swaddled in insulated flight suits and breathing bottled oxygen.
"The only reason they flew that high," he said, "was because of enemy fighters and flak."
The planes will be open for walk-through tours at the Monterey Jet Center from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday. Tour donation is $10 for adults, $5 for children under 12.
Thirty-minute flights aboard the aircraft are available for a tax-deductible donation of $425 aboard the B-17 or B-24, and $325 for a rear-fuselage ride or $400 for a ride forward on the B-25. Walk-through donations are also tax deductible, and proceeds are used by the foundation to maintain and fly the historic planes.
Saturday the three planes will fly to Hollister Airport, where they will be on display at Gavilan Aviation through Sunday.
For information, call 373-8907, or see www.collingsfoundation.org. For flight reservations, call (978) 618-6626.
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