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WW II era aircraft on display in Laconia

Union Leader Correspondent

September 18. 2018 8:01PM
Edna Piehler, left, her husband, Robert, center, of Alexandria, and their friend Joann Irving of Hill, right, take a photo before taking a flight in the B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft” owned by the Collings Foundation. (Bea Lewis/Union Leader Correspondent)

A B-24 Liberator owned by the Collins Foundation attracted a crowd on Monday at the Laconia Airport. The iconic plane along with the Mitchell B-25 medium bomber will remain on display until Wednesday at noon. (Bea Lewis/Union Leader Correspondent)

GILFORD — History came alive for visitors to the Laconia Airport as the Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom Tour displayed some of the most iconic aircraft of World War II.

The event opened Monday and will continue until Wednesday at noon. Visitors can view and tour the aircraft, and flights are also available for purchase. Established in 1979, the non-profit foundation’s mission is to both preserve and display rare historical artifacts and to organize events that enable people to learn more about their heritage through direct participation. Robert Piehler of Alexandria, an avid World War II historian, has a special connection to the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber through his late father, who served nearly three years as a crew chief on the aircraft that is powered by two Wright R-2600 engines.

“He told me it was quite a sight to see 40 or 50 of them take off at one time,” Piehler said.

He and his wife, Edna, and their close friend, Joann Irving, of Hill, were scheduled to take a flight on the world’s only fully restored and flying Consolidated B-24J Liberator “Witchcraft.”

“Who said do something every day that scares you,” said Irving, who spent 15 years as a truck driver making both short- and long-haul trips.

“I was the one they sent to Canada when it was snowing,” she said.

Edna Piehler is no shrinking violet herself. She spent 30 years in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, obtaining the rank of lieutenant colonel, then ran the health care department for a county correctional facility. Robert Piehler said his dad also told him that most of the flight crews had a pet as a mascot. The dogs quickly learned to pick out the drone of the engines of their crew’s particular aircraft and would only stir from their sleep and trot down to the runway when they heard their plane coming in for a landing.

“Sometimes they didn’t come home,” Piehler said.

The couple’s son joined the New Hampshire National Guard while in college and has since completed two tours in Iraq and now serves full time with the New Hampshire Air National Guard. A Boeing B-24G was expected to be part of the tour in Laconia but it blew an engine in Vermont and remains grounded there for repairs. Meanwhile, the Foundation’s North American TP-51C Mustang was in the hangar at Laconia Airport undergoing work.

Based in Stowe, Mass., the Collings Foundation is currently building the American Heritage Museum to house some of its collection.

The tour will next head to Portland, Maine, from Sept. 19 to Sept. 21.

Human Interest History War Gilford Transportation

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