Vintage planes take to Shelby County’s skies

Published 11:53 pm Friday, November 6, 2009

Machine guns, chrome and olive green paint schemes and the roar of massive four-propeller war machines streaked across the skies of central Shelby County as dozens of spectators waved from the ground.

Leather jacket-clad pilots manned the cockpits as a P-51 Mustang, a B-17 Flying Fortress and a B-24 Liberator touched down on the landing strip.

The Collings Foundation recreated a scene out of the 1940s Nov. 6, as the organization flew the trio of vintage war planes into the Shelby County Airport. For more than 20 years, the nonprofit organization has been restoring and flying the more than 70-year-old aircraft and showcasing them at airports across the country.

“It’s really an honor to fly these planes. They are the last of their type,” said Jim Harley, who piloted the B-24 to the Shelby County Airport. “To be able to do this and honor all the veterans who flew these airplanes in World War II is a privilege.”

Nov. 6 marked the fifth time the vintage planes have visited the Shelby County Airport, a destination Harley said was one of his favorite.

“I love coming to Alabama,” Harley said. “The people here are always very enthusiastic when we come, and they always have signs made up welcoming us to Shelby County.”

Johnny Ward, a local pilot who helped organize the event, said hosting the planes helps promote the airport and the county.

“This event and this airport are things Shelby County can really be proud of,” Ward said. “The pilots here love seeing these planes, and I look at the event as a way of promoting the airport.”

The vintage aircraft will be in Shelby County until Nov. 9, when they will take off for Columbus, Ga.

The event is open to the public, and viewing the planes is free. However, a charge applies for those who want to enter or fly in the planes.

Although the event planners did not initially plan to have the planes in Shelby County a few days before Veterans Day, they said the event will add a special touch to the holiday.

“We actually didn’t intentionally schedule them to be here for Veterans Day, but we were lucky to have it work out that way,” said Frank Stickley, who also helped bring the event to Shelby County. “I think having it here right before Veterans Day is very special.

“When veterans get to see the planes they actually flew in, it makes this all worthwhile,” Stickley added.