Romeo Longo sat in a chair in the lobby of the Lawrence Municipal Airport terminal Saturday and stared out at a B-17 parked on the tarmac.
"That was just a great plane," the 87-year-old Lawrence man said of the four-engine, World War II bomber. "It had great dependability. It could take anything."
Longo should know. During World War II he was the flight engineer on a B-17 that flew over the Atlantic Ocean searching for German U-boat submarines to attack. He also manned the top machine-gun turret just behind the cockpit.
"We'd drop depth charges on them. We'd wait for them to surface," Longo said.
Charlie Perry, 55, of Baldwin, still harbors affection for the B-17. As a boy, he recalled watching World War II documentaries and the TV show, "Twelve O'Clock High" that were about the B-17.
"I always wanted one to land on the 'back 40' out on the farm so I could play in it," Perry said.
Two B-17s are among more than a dozen vintage planes on display today at the airport in conjunction with activities marking the opening of the Dole Institute of Politics on the Kansas University campus.
The second B-17 was used in the making of the movie "Memphis Belle," the name of a World War II bomber.
Monday the planes will participate in an air parade over KU's Memorial Stadium. The flyover will start at 10 a.m.
Most of the planes arrived at the airport Saturday. A few veterans like Longo were there watching with other onlookers.
A yellow Stearman biplane attracted the attention of Frank Pattee, 79, of Lawrence. It was a plane he learned to fly while training to be a Navy pilot.
"It was a lot of fun to fly," said Pattee, who dropped out of the pilot program because of a perforated eardrum. "We called them yellow parrots."
One of the most unusual and rare planes on display will be a German observation plane, the Fi-156C Storch. The plane may be the only one of its kind still flying, according to its owner, former Lawrence resident Steve Ericson.
"Every general had one to travel in," said Ericson, of Lancaster, Calif. "(Gen. Erwin) Rommel had one. The Germans used it to land on a mountain to rescue (Italian dictator Benito) Mussolini when he was being held by the Italians."
|The planes can be viewed by the public from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. today; 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday; and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday. There will be no public parking at the airport. Visitors must take one of the several shuttle buses.|
Primarily, however, the single-engine plane was used for observation, artillery spotting and as an air ambulance, said Ericson, who has worked for Lockheed's Skunkworks, where technology was developed for the Stealth aircraft.
Several of the Navy's primary fighters and bombers also are scheduled to be on display, such as the F6F-Hellcat, the TBM Avenger and Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless.
Other planes expected to arrive were an Army Air Force P-51 Redtail Mustang, B-25 bomber, and a Japanese Mitsubishi Zero fighter.