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Sky’s limit for airport event

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Columbus residents can fly back in time Saturday at Aviation Day, when Columbus Municipal Airport gives people a chance to take to the skies in historic aircraft.

A highlight of the event will be a stopover by a commemorative World War II B-17 airplane, Airport Director Brian Payne said.

Although Aviation Day will be from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, the bomber will arrive Friday for tours and rides and stay through Sunday, Payne said.

The historic airplane is flying from Topeka, Kansas, to Columbus as part of its Sentimental Journey tour around the country.

The public may tour the plane for $5 or take a ride in it for $425 per passenger.

The B-17 is special to Columbus veteran John Walter, 93, who piloted one in World War II over Germany.

He said these planes won’t fly forever and suggested members of the public should see the B-17 while they have the opportunity.

“You’ve got a chance to see one of the tools that won the war — actually flying, not as a picture, not as a museum piece, but the actual hardware in flight,” he said. “And you can actually go on a ride.”

Walter said he flew the B-17 bomber on 35 missions in World War II, including several that nearly cost him his life. After the war, he worked as a pilot for a California company transporting products around the country.

He eventually got a chance to go up in a B-17 again, the same one that is coming to Columbus on Friday. About 21 years ago, he piloted the plane from Terre Haute to Columbus one last time. He plans to be at the airport on Friday to see the plane again.

Walter said there’s nothing like the sounds, sights and smell of a B-17, or Flying Fortress, as it was called. Of the plane’s many features, including its four engines and its 12 50-caliber machine guns, Walter said he does have a favorite part.

“The left seat,” he said, referring to the pilot’s seat, remembering what it was like to fly one for the first time from Dyersberg, Tennessee, to England in August 1942.

In addition to touring or taking a ride in the B-17, visitors can tour or ride in a Huey helicopter, an R-44 helicopter, a Cessna 172 or a Stearman biplane.

Payne and Assistant Airport Manager Carlos Laverty have been planning Saturday’s inaugural Aviation Day since November. They are modeling the event after fly-ins at other airports around the state, which usually involve an early-morning pancake breakfast with residents.

A USO Pancake Breakfast is planned from 7 to 10:30 a.m. at an aircraft hangar east of the airport terminal.

The breakfast is one of dozens of activities planned during the 12-hour event, all designed to encourage residents to visit the Columbus airport — some of whom may not even know it exists.

Aviation Day will have a hot-air balloon display, followed by children’s activities, a “First Flights” program that will allow the public to build their own model plane and fly it; and tours of remote-controlled aircraft displays and simulators. The Hooligan Flight Team also will perform.

The event will have a vendor market, offering products with airplane themes, Payne said.

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