The purpose of the Collings Foundation is to organize and support “living history” events that enable Americans to learn more about their heritage through direct participation.
The Collings Foundation is a non-profit, Educational Foundation (501c-3), founded in 1979. The purpose of the Foundation is to organize and support “living history” events that enable Americans to learn more about their heritage through direct participation. The original focus of the Foundation was transportation-related events such as antique car rallies, hill climbs, carriage and sleigh rides, and a winter ice-cutting festival in the Stow, MA area. During the mid-eighties, these activities were broadened to include aviation-related events such as air shows, barnstorming, historical reunions, and joint museum displays on a nationwide level.
Since 1989, a major focus of the Foundation has been the “Wings of Freedom Tour” of WWII aircraft. This tour showcases two fully restored bomber aircraft: a B-24 Liberator and B-17 Flying Fortress. The newest addition to the Wings of Freedom Tour is a WWII P-51C Mustang dual-control fighter aircraft.
The Foundation’s 1944 vintage Consolidated B-24J Liberator is painted as “Witchcraft”, an 8th AF bomber that flew a record 130 missions over Europe as part of the 467th BG. The Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress flies as “Nine-O-Nine”, an 8th Air Force, 91st BG heavy bomber. The B-17 was the companion of the B-24 in thousands of wartime, bombing, and reconnaissance missions. Together they were the backbone of the daylight strategic bombing campaign of WWII. Joining the bombers is a P-51C Mustang escort fighter “Betty Jane”. The P-51 was affectionately nicknamed by the bomber crews as their “Little Friends”. The P-51 Mustang and the pilots who flew them saved countless lives in the skies and on the ground, and helped turn the tide of WWII. The P-51 is arguably the finest fighter aircraft in the history of aviation.
The “Wings of Freedom Tour” has two goals: to honor the sacrifices made by our veterans that allow us to enjoy our freedom; and to educate the visitors, especially younger Americans, about our national history and heritage. The Foundation encourages people to tour the planes, talk to the veterans who come to visit the aircraft, and participate in a “flight experience”. Celebrating 26 years, the tour has made more than 2,900 visits to airports across the United States and Alaska. While the exact number of visitors is difficult to gauge, it is estimated that over 3.5 million people see these fully restored historic aircraft annually.
In honor of America’s Vietnam Veterans, the Collings Foundation has developed the “Vietnam Memorial Flight” of the McDonnell F-4D Phantom II, Douglas TA-4J Skyhawk, Bell UH-1E Huey and F-100F Super Sabre. The F-4D Phantom II is the only civilian operated example of the type and has appeared at major US air shows since 1999 in the markings of the aircraft flown by Gen. Robin Olds in Vietnam. In 2005 the F-4 was joined by the Douglas TA-4J Skyhawk that has been painted to represent the markings of H&MS-11 “The Playboys”, a distinguished all-volunteer fast forward air control group operated out of DaNang by USMC MAG-11. The UH-1E Huey, one of the most recognizable symbols of the Vietnam War, operates in the markings it carried while flown in combat by Captain Steven Pless, CMDH, with USMC VMO-6. This combat distinction is rare as many Hueys never returned from the war, much less surviving in the years since. The F-100F Super Sabre is the newest addition to the Vietnam Memorial Flight. This F-100F is painted in the markings of Medal of Honor recipient Bud Day’s favorite MISTY jet. In April 2012, a Douglas A-1E Skyraider has joined the foundation’s collection and will be flying in honor of our Vietnam Veterans. In addition to attending air shows and living history events, we offer unique “flight experience and training” programs in the jets and helicopter.
The Foundation also operates additional historic aircraft that have made joint appearances with the Wings of Freedom Tour and Vietnam Memorial Flight, in addition to solo appearances. These include a 1909 Bleriot XI, Boeing PT-17 Stearman, North American AT-6 Texan, Grumman TBM Avenger, Chance-Vought F4U-5NL Corsair, Fiesler FI-156 Storch, UC-78 Bobcat, Grumman FM-2 Wildcat, Douglas A-1E Skyraider, North American A-36, Grumman G-21A “Goose” and a Me-262 Jet Fighter. The Foundation continually seeks projects to expand its collection of fully restored and flying aircraft. The Foundation’s newest acquisition is a P-40B Tomahawk. This particular Tomahawk is the last fully restored and flying fighter that survived Pearl Harbor. Currently, the Collings Foundation is restoring to flying condition a F6F Hellcat and Fw 190 F-8 and Fw 190 D-9.
From our headquarters in Stow, MA, the Foundation coordinates the “Wings of Freedom” and “Vietnam Memorial” flights and acts as a clearinghouse of information on issues of both aviation and history, along with overseeing the operation of our other aircraft and “living history” projects. The Stow facilities include an aviation museum and a vintage automobile and race car collection, which are open by appointment for group tours from May through October. On average, twenty-five events are hosted annually, many of them fundraising events for non-profit groups. The Foundation also hosts three public open house / “living history” events annually at the Stow headquarters.
As of 2013, the Foundation has taken in Jacques Littlefield’s Military Vehicle Collection. This is the largest privately held collection of historic tanks and military artifacts in the world. A new facility is being built to showcase these tanks on the Stow grounds. Completion of the facility is expected by 2015.
The vintage car collection includes over sixty-six American-built automobiles and vehicles from the first half of the century. Included in the collection are midget, sprint and “Indy” racecars and Fred Duesenberg’s personal Duesenberg SJ Dual-Cowl Phaeton, along with a 1940 Cadillac V-16 owned by Al Capone. The aviation museum is home to a number of the Foundation’s smaller aircraft, including a 1902 Wright Glider (replica), an original Bleriot XI (1909), 1911 Wright “Vin Fiz” (replica), Fokker DR-1 Triplane (replica), PT-17 Stearman (1942), AT-6 Texan (1945), TBM Avenger (1945), Fiesler FI-156 Storch (1943), and a static T-33 Shooting Star (1948). Military vehicles and artifacts include a Vim “Camp Devens Express” (1918), Model T Ambulance (1918), Ford Jeep (1942), early 1900’s fire trucks and a German 88mm anti-aircraft cannon.
The Foundation also sponsors on and off-site educational/restoration workshops. In Houston, TX, with the CF West group of volunteers based at Ellington Field, the S2F Tracker and T-33 Shooting Star are undergoing both restoration and on-going maintenance. The F-4D Phantom, TA-4J Skyhawk, F-100 Super Sabre and UH-IE Huey are also maintained there. The New Smyrna Beach, Florida location is responsible for the award-winning restoration of the F4U-5NL Corsair, as well as the annual and continued maintenance of the B-17, B-24, and B-25. Automobiles, tanks and other equipment are maintained at the Foundation headquarters. These workshops provide the Foundation with valuable services and expertise, and the volunteers and veterans provide countless hours of labor – and enthusiasm.
Over the past thirty years the Foundation has undertaken and completed more restoration projects than many of the major aviation museums in the United States such as the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM) or the United States Air Force Museum. The importance of volunteers who support the Foundation’s efforts by hosting the aircraft in their towns, maintaining and restoring the planes, educating the American public about the heritage the planes represent, and financially supporting the Foundation’s efforts is invaluable. The Foundation’s efforts have caught the attention of people of all ages and backgrounds (the youngest volunteer started at age 12). The Foundation also relies upon the volunteer services from professional pilots, mechanics, experts and people of all walks of life.
More information is in this profile in Airport Journals.