The Collings Foundation
WINGS OF FREEDOM TOURS
The biggest player, by far, in the warbird-experience community is the Collings Foundation based in Stow, Massachusetts. While it does charge for rides and instructional flights, the revenue, which helps support its aircraft, is not the reason why it conducts its Wings of Freedom Tours. The Foundation’s “foundation” was laid down by Bob Collings back in the 1970s, when he began collecting cars and then developed a serious appreciation for the history those vehicles represented. History became the incentive to collect and that morphed into a personal goal of keeping history alive and getting the general public involved.
Being in New England, Bob Collings began organizing living history events in which, as the Foundation’s director of marketing, Hunter Chaney, puts it, “Participants got hands-on historical experience. It was a tactile form of history. Mr. Collings’s attitude is that to read about history is one thing but to participate in it is something altogether different and [one] that leaves a more long-lasting mark on those involved.”
In that arena, Collings organized events like ice cutting, a true New England tradition, or operating farm equipment and other activities that made New England what it is.
“Bob’s turn to aviation history,” says Chaney, “was caused mostly by his wanting to make the public more aware and more appreciative of the tremendous contributions made to the country by its military veterans. So he began seeking out WW II aircraft that he wanted to develop into some form of living history event.”
Chaney says, “The Foundation was aided in the Liberator restoration by B-24 veteran groups that put together a grassroots funding drive that literally had them collecting donations in tin cups.”
While all of this was taking place, Bob Collings was thinking about a way to bring people closer to their aviation heritage. Living history events were still on his mind, and that led to him form an alliance with the EAA and approach the FAA about selling rides in the
B-24. His thought was that there would be nothing that could give an individual a better understanding of what veterans experienced than actually sitting where they sat in combat. The process that was involved in asking the government to allow something that had never been done before is too long and complex to be described here. The fact that the FAA recognized some of the same values that Collings saw in living history flights, however, speaks volumes about making history live again today.
Today, the B-24 is joined on the 109 stops
(37 states) of the 2018 tour by the Foundation’s B-25, B-17, and one of only two original Temcoconverted, dual-control TF-51Ds known to exist. Soon, other aircraft, including a TP-40 and an AD Skyraider, will be offered to the public. And while the public is seeing the Collings Foundation aircraft on tour, construction is underway back in Stow on a massive new museum building that is designed specifically to put museum visitors into historically accurate combat environments (trenches, airbases, etc.). Plus, a wide number of aircraft are under restoration, including a backup B-17, a Hellcat, and two FW 190s (A and D models), among others. According to Chaney, “Our continual challenge in everything we do is how to integrate educational standards with thrilling experiences, both in the air and on the ground.”
“OUR CONTINUAL CHALLENGE IN EVERYTHING WE DO IS HOW TO INTEGRATE EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS WITH THRILLING EXPERIENCES, BOTH IN THE AIR AND ON THE GROUND.” —ROB COLLINGS, COLLINGS FOUNDATION
Touring with four airplanes requires a substantial crew. (Photo courtesy of the Collings Foundation)