By Ken Martin
FLYING INTO HISTORY: I love history. History is an interesting and intriguing subject that, unfortunately, is frequently taught by dull teachers using dull, rote methods causing many students to turn off to the subject.
While attending Fremont High School in Oakland many years ago I was lucky enough to have been in the History classes of Mr. Edward T. Planer, teacher extraordinaire. Mr. Planer had a way of really making you see history and almost living it. I still consider him to be the finest teacher I had in all my years of school. It is probably due to his influence that I enjoy history so much and that I belong to organizations like the Pacific Locomotive Association (Niles Canyon Railway) and the Collings Foundation.
I particularly like historical machinery like airplanes, trains, cars, and boats. Many of you may be familiar with the Niles Canyon Railway that restores and operates historical trains between Sunol and Niles, but you most likely haven’t even heard of the Collings Foundation that restores and flies World War II aircraft.
Each year this organization literally barnstorms the U.S. with three WW II bombers – a B-17, a B-24, and a B-25 – that they display and in which, for a price, you can take a ride. Some local airports, among them Livermore and Concord, are on their annual itinerary. Recently they stopped over at Livermore Airport. The membership level at which I belong entitles me to flights in the aircraft, so Patty and I went flying into history.
We had previously been up in the B-17 and the B-24, so we chose to ride in the B-25 this time. The B-25 is one of my all-time favorite aircraft. It is a beautiful plane that served in all theaters and in virtually all capacities. It was the aircraft chosen by Jimmy Doolittle for his famous 1942 raid on Tokyo. The Collings B-25 is a restored plane named “Tondelayo” after a B-25 of that name that had a very distinguished WW II record.
Getting into the craft requires a small amount of athleticism, especially for 70-somethings in areas designed for use by 20-somethings. Moving about inside is not like being in a 727. To get into the nose “greenhouse” (where the bombardier operated), for example, it is necessary to slither through an 18” by 20” 8-foot long tunnel under the pilot’s seat on your belly. Patty and I both made it. Not easy, but the view was worth it!
Military aircraft builders don’t spend a lot of money on insulation so these planes have a high noise factor. We were sitting between two 2600 horsepower unmuffled radial engines and the sound level surely exceeded that of any rock concert. Fortunately, the crew was considerate enough to furnish hearing protection.
But, whatever the drawbacks, it was fun! We had a chance to feel and hear what those intrepid aviators felt when they flew off of the deck of the USS Hornet in April, 1942, on their way to bomb Tokyo. It is not often that one gets to have such a sensation. It was exciting, especially for a history buff with a good imagination. We’ll do it again sometime.
What’s exciting in your life? Contact CV Side Trips at or (510) 727-9296.