Ray Parker is schedule to be aboard the last fully restored B-24J Liberator in the world when it lands around 1:45 p.m. Friday at Long Beach Airport. That may not mean much to you, but it does to Parker and organizers of the Wings of Freedom Tour.
Nearly 60 years ago, Parker was working for the Los Angeles Herald when the teletype machines went crazy with the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. He enlisted in the Air Force the next day and became a navigator on a B-24 Liberator, his first mission being flown under the command of movie star-turned-pilot Jimmy Stewart. On Parker's 10th mission, his B-24 was shot down and he was captured by the Germans. During his last 14 months in Stalag Luft 1, he risked his life by secretly writing an underground newspaper that disseminated information and hope to the camp's 9,000 prisoners of war. Parker's flight Friday will be his first aboard a Liberator since his was shot down.
The nonprofit Collings Foundation's 110-city Wings of Freedom Tour, now in its 20th year, brings the rarely displayed WWII vintage Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Consolidated B-24 Liberator and North American P-51 Mustang to Long Beach Airport's Daugherty Field Friday through Tuesday. For a donation of $6 for children and $12 for adults, visitors get to explore the aircraft inside and out. Half-hour flights are also available, but they cost much more: $425 on either the B-17 or B-24 and $2,200 on the P-51 (or $3,200 for a full hour). Reservations are available by calling (800) 568-8924.
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The planes will be displayed 2-5 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. the other days.