A 94-year-old Villager was thrilled to hitch a ride aboard a B-17 for the first time since he was a teenager serving in World War II.
Alfred Colbath was living in northern Maine and never even journeyed so far as to see the ocean before the 17-year-old became a Seabee in the U.S. Navy serving in a construction Battalion in the South Pacific.
Colbath, who has lived in The Villages since 1986 and was a longtime walking partner of Villages founder Harold Schwartz, climbed aboard the noisy B-17 nicknamed “Ye Olde Pub” on Monday afternoon at Leesburg International Airport. He was transformed back to that teen who had breathed salt air for the first time.
During the 20-minute flight, Colbath scurried into the nose bowl in the front of the plane with the limberness of those teenage years.
“I used to hook a ride (on a B-17) on my time off,” he said. “It was quite an event then and maybe even better today.”
The famed B-17 Flying Fortress will be on display along with a P-51 Mustang this Saturday and Sunday at the Leesburg airport where the Liberty Foundation will be offering flight experiences in both aircraft. A 30-minute flight on the B-17 will allow passengers to experience what it was really like to be a B-17 crew member during World War II. B-17 rides are $475 per passenger. For those who like a faster ride, the P-51 flights will be available for $1,195 for a 10-minute flight or $1,995 for a 20-minute flight. Donation-only ground tours will be given in between flights and at the end of each day’s last flight around 4 p.m.
To schedule a flight, call (678) 589-7433 or visit www.libertyfoundation.org.
The operating cost of a flying fortress is more than $5,000 per flight hour. The Liberty Foundation spends more than $1 million annually to keep Ye Olde Pub airworthy and out on tour.
John Hess, a Delta Airlines pilot who takes the B-17 aloft as a volunteer, said the B-17s have become rarer and rarer.
“Many of the old war birds got melted down after the war so people could have their pots and pans back,” Hess explained.
The Liberty Foundation’s “Ye Olde Pub” was built toward the end of the war and never saw any combat. It is painted in the colors and nose art of the original Ye Olde Pub B-17 that flew with the 379th bomb group of the mighty 8th Airforce.
Sixteen million Americans served during World War II. Today, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, only 558,000 are still alive.