The Collings Foundation Warbirds – Will They Ever Return To Butler County?

by Jim Opalka, March 2, 2016

     Some friends and I walked into these interesting looking hangars at New Smyrna Beach Municipal Airport (KEVB), Florida at the American Aero Services hangar. We’d been there before. However, like all things in life, nothing stays the same. Sure, there were boxes of Mitchell B-25 parts, turbochargers, a Bazooka i.e. a man-portable recoilless antitank rocket launcher, WWII radios, uniforms and of course there were warbirds.

Never know what you may find in warbird hangars.
Never know what you may find in warbird hangars.
Interesting. Crates of damaged parts for WWII bombers.
Interesting. Crates of damaged parts for WWII bombers.

That is to say, there were a number of the most loved, well cared for, and charishable memorials any patriotic American could wish to behold, and better yet, fly. And you can do that for a fee. More on that later.

Warbirds tend to be high maintenance. After all, if you’d been through a World War over 70 years ago and were still expected to fly around the county you’d need a lot of maintenance too.

One of the older models, this is an early variant of the P-40 fighter similar to those at Pearl Harbor in 1941
One of the older models, this is an early variant of the P-40 fighter similar to those at Pearl Harbor in 1941
Didn't shine like this back in the 40s.
Didn’t shine like this back in the 40s.

According to a knowledgeable gentleman at the Collings Foundation, every one-flight hour (Tach Time or Hobbs Time?) on a warbird has to be counterbalanced by ten hours on the ground for maintenance. I’d call this high preservation time.

Note – of course the Collings Foundation is a not-for-profit educational foundation founded in 1979. Think the 909 B17 that spent a lot of time at the Air Heritage Hangar at BVI being repaired after a runway miscue. Anyhow, the Collings mission is to organize and support “living history” events that enable Americans to learn more about their heritage.

Right now some of their living history in the form of combat aircraft are being worked on at New Smyrna. See photos. These are legends. The one legend in particular, the tandem TF-51D, Toulouse Nuts, obviously has two seats I.E. warbird flight experiences and / or warbird flight instruction. What a ride. You want instructed in the back seat or the front? Wonder if it’s like in a J3 Cub from the back. You know. You have to sit in the back while your instructor gets to hold onto those metal supports directly in front of him or her while you keep banging those nasty landings onto the pavement or sod.

Ride in it or fly it, It is up to you, A two seat P-51 Mustang.
Ride in it or fly it, It is up to you, A two seat P-51 Mustang
Got to love the nose art. If you have any pics of Toulouse Nuts back in the day, please contact the Collings Foundation. They are trying to restore the ship with the original nose art on the cowling. They have not been able to find anything to indicate what was there.
Got to love the nose art.
If you have any pics of Toulouse Nuts back in the day, please contact the Collings Foundation. They are trying to restore the ship with the original nose art on the cowling. They have not been able to find anything to indicate what was there.

Of course we at Butler County have been privileged to have some of the Collings equipment at BTP as a part of their Wings of Freedom Tour. These warbirds were like magnets when they were here. You would think we were serving free meals and handing out A2 leather flight jackets considering the mobs of people lining up for rides in these beacons of US history.

Some of the Collings ships could be back again this year depending on a number of factors. Although not currently on the schedule, there is always a chance. It all depends. We’ll keep you informed. And according to Hunter, a Collings volunteer in Massachusetts: “Schedules change can happen any time.” And that’s how we got them here last time.

These aircraft go to over a hundred cities in the course of 10.5 months. We’re talking one city every three days. This is done by jockeying 30 pilots all over the US. And don’t forget the all-important crewmembers that keep the planes running safely.

To move on. The B25-J pictured here, Tondelayo, has some history. It was part of the 500th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group, 5th Air Force. Returning to England after one particularly difficult and costly mission, the ship was inspected by the ground crew. Eleven unexploded 20mm shells were discovered in the fuel tanks of the ship. Had one exploded of course the entire 25′ would have been smoke.

Excellent, A B-25 Mitchell Bomber
Excellent, A B-25 Mitchell Bomber

When the shells were opened it was discovered they contained no explosive charges. Inside one of the casings was a note rolled neatly like a miniature Dead Sea Scroll that read in Czechoslovakian: “This is all we can do for you now.” That slave labor saved some lives on this mission.

One of these got her home to fly another day.
One of these got her home to fly another day.

Another mission found the Tondelayo, by one account, in a firefight with fifty Zeros. After being shot up she was able to make it back to base with turret gunner S.Sgt. Murphy credited with splashing five Zeros.

As anyone can see, all of the aircraft worked on here at New Smyrna shine, definitely more so than they did when flying combat missions. One can’t help but wonder if spectators and tire kickers at airshows believe all combat aircraft taking part in a world war look like these spit-shined beauties.

I remember George, a B-24 Liberator pilot, who had put in some very tough years in the European theater. He lectured me about how the warbirds at shows are not even close to looking like they did when he was flying combat. And of course they didn’t. No one is shooting at them today.

George was a master mechanic and truly skilled at making aircraft look spectacular, both mechanically and cosmetically. He owned a 1947 V-Tail Bonanza, the famed Fork-Tailed Doctor Killer. He always bragged about how his V-Tail had a solid center section as opposed to the honeycomb design normally used in the early A-35s. It’s strange, the little precious memories we recall about aircraft and their owners.

With all of George’s skills and craftsmanship his Beechcraft Bonanza could have looked showroom new. But it did not. Actually, the exterior he did in fact strip himself and paint. It was nice.

In contrast, the interior looked a bit rough. The glare-shield was not perfect, to say the least. The panel was reminiscent of the interior of a stock car. The seats were tattered and worn.

Truth be told, George felt at home in that V-Tail. I’ll bet if we could see an old black and white of the B-24 he piloted, it would have a classic, rough, battle-scared interior similar to his Beech. Can’t beat that. Bombs away my friend and thank you.

Another unlikely warbird
Another unlikely warbird seen in Florida

Keep your fingers crossed for Collings this summer.

Credit – Things Have Changed BlogSpot for Tondelayo historical archive

Credit – Collings Foundation for Toulouse Nuts TF-51D historical info.

Warbirds fixed here...
Warbirds fixed here…