Flying into the Past

Mar 20, 2018 - 3:45 PM

If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to fly before the jet age, book a ride on a vintage aircraft at one of nearly 100 venues listed on warbirdalley.com. In the U.S., paid flights in warbirds and other vintage aircraft generally operate under the Federal Aviation Administration’s Living History Flight Experience waiver and are limited to a 25-mile radius of the airport. Still, the thrill of flying in a restored fighter or bomber makes up for the short flight.

“There’s nothing like the sound of a round engine,” says Dave Shiffer, referring to the radial engines powering the World War II B-25 Mitchell bomber that he flies for the Champaign Aviation Museum in Urbana, Ohio. “In the B-25, you feel the history. It’s like flying for the first time.”

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Of the more than 40,000 medium and heavy bombers manufactured during WWII, fewer than 60 remain in flying condition today, including 45 B-25s. Most are operated by small aviation museums that require you to visit their venue on specific days to book a ride. Larger associations such as the Experimental Aircraft Association and Commemorative Air Force take their aircraft on tours of U.S. and Canadian airports for a weekend at a time. The CAF even offers flights on its B-29 Superfortress Fifi, one of only two flying B-29s remaining. Prices for half-hour flights range from $180 to $1,795 per person, depending on the organization and aircraft.     

Pilots Dave and Eric Shiffer fly one of the mere 45 B-25s that remain operational today. (Photo: Kim Rosenlof)

If you want to take the controls, check out Stallion 51 in Kissimmee, Florida, which provides orientation flights for pilots and non-pilots in two-seat TF-51 Mustang fighters and T-6 Texan piston-powered trainers. Prices for a half-day experience including ground briefings, pre-flight, and flight time start at $600 in the T-6 and $2,550 in the TF-51.

Looking for a romantic flight for two? Dozens of operators offer rides in open cockpit biplanes such as the 1930s-era Boeing PT-17 Stearman and Waco 10/YMF for approximately $100 per person. “Whenever we fly over, people come out to watch,” says Gretchen Hawk of Troy, Ohio’s Waco Air Museum, where 30-minute biplane flights cost $300 for both singles and couples. “Flying the Waco keeps our purpose alive: preserving the past and inspiring the future.”