Wings of Freedom visits Porter Co. airport
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent July 21, 2014 8:06PM
World War II veteran Tony Cook of Lakes of the Four Seasons was a mechanic on B-24 bombers during the war. On Monday, July 21, 2014, he rides in a B-17 Flying Fortress at the Porter County Airport. Multiple planes will be at the airport through Wednesday for public tours and flights. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media
The Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom tour continues through Wednesday at Porter County Regional Airport.
Walk-through tours of the planes take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday. Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for children 12 and under and free for World War II veterans.
Flights are available for a $450 donation. For more information, go to www.collingsfoundation.org
Updated: August 23, 2014 6:02AM
VALPARAISO — Tony Cook took a break from peering out of the windows of a B-17 Flying Fortress making a loop toward Lake Michigan and back to Porter County Regional Airport.
The plane was loud, and the hatch over the radio room was open, bringing warm air blowing through the tight quarters of the World War II bomber. Cook smiled and made an “OK” sign with his fingers.
Cook, 88, of Lakes of the Four Seasons, served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, the Air Force’s predecessor, from August 1944 to January 1946. After training in Mississippi, he served in France, England and Germany as an airplane mechanic, working on B-24 Liberators. He flew on DC-3 cargo planes, better known as the Goony Bird, delivering food to those in American zones.
After the military, Cook married, was an iron worker, got a college degree in civil engineering at night through the GI Bill and became an engineer in the steel industry.
But Cook had never been on a B-17 until Monday, when he took the flight through the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom tour, which continues through Wednesday. The nonprofit foundation supports living history events.
This is the 25th year for the tour, and it’s almost always stopped in Valparaiso. Bob Collings, the foundation’s founder, is a 1956 graduate of Valparaiso High School.
Upward of 1,000 people typically come see the B-17 and its World War II cohorts, the B-24 Liberator and the P-51 Mustang, while they are stationed at the airport, and between 40 and 50 people usually go on flights for a $450 donation to the foundation.
The flight on the B-17 lasted about 30 minutes. Kelly Hughes, one of the volunteers with Wings of Freedom, said the plane traveled at 120 mph and was about 1,300 feet in the air during the flight.
As the plane approached the northern part of Porter County, the Chicago skyline was visible through a haze. Below, farm fields gave way to subdivisions with cul-de-sacs and swimming pools, churches and schools.
“I think it’s great,” Cook said after he got off the B-17. “It’s a beautiful view.”