“Flying museum” lets public view WWII aircraft and honor local heroes

Local

Tri-City Aviation is hosting World War II-era aircraft in remembrance of a vanishing generation and the sacrifices they made for freedom. 

Frank Purner, 73, was there Monday to see the model aircraft that his dad, David, flew in April of 1944. 

Purner said his dad was just 24 years old when the B-24 Liberator he was navigating was shot down outside of Berlin. 

“He knew he was going to die with that plane but at about a thousand feet there was an explosion and dad was free,” said Purner. 

He said his dad was wounded when he hit the ground, then captured by the Germans three days later. He said he was a prisoner of war for a year before being liberated by U.S. forces. 

“If he hadn’t escaped the plane, I wouldn’t be here,” said Purner. 

Many weren’t so lucky. Purner said half of his dad’s crew were killed in that plane crash. “There’s no way that we can even begin to thank the people that flew in these planes and the sacrifices that they made so that we have the freedom we have today,” he said. 

It’s because of heroes like David Purner that the Commemorative Air Force continues to maintain these World War II era planes. 

“This is a museum that we bring to you, this is a flying museum, we’re trying to keep the history alive,” said Don Boccaccio, Commemorative Air Force AirPower History Tour leader. 

In addition to the B-24, visitors will also be able to take a look inside the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Fifi, which Boccaccio described as an iconic aircraft. 

He said it was the only model aircraft at the time capable of carrying a 10 thousand pound atomic bomb. 

A table inside the plane was signed by the navigator that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, according to Boccaccio. 

“This model aircraft was responsible for ending the war and they made almost 4 thousand of these but there are only two flying and this is the only one that tours around the country,” said Boccaccio. 

He said the aircraft tour is made possible by hundreds of volunteers. He said it takes 10 thousand dollars and 100 hours of maintenance to run this aircraft for an hour. 

For Purner, the connection it offers to his recently deceased father is priceless. 

“I really appreciate people trying to keep these planes flying,” said Purner. “He’s my hero.” 

These planes and others manufactured during WWII will be on display at Tri-City Aviation Wednesday to Sunday from 9 AM to 5 PM. 

Rides will be available for some visitors and cockpit tours are available when they’re not flying. 

T-shirts commemorating the event will be sold for $10 with all proceeds going to the Appalachian Aviatrixes, the local chapter of the Ninety-Nines. 

The group is trying to get more women to become pilots by offering scholarships that help them get off the ground and get started on their flight training. 

Appalachian Aviatrixes Scholarship Chair Meagan Harr said, currently, only 6 percent of pilots are women. 

“I think a lot of the reason why the demographic is so low with females is because they think they can’t do it but that is not the case at all so I think it’s good for them to know that they have just as much chance as anybody does in the industry,” Harr said. 

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