Residents from all over the Tampa Bay region converged on Brooksville Airport recently to enjoy what was for some, a once in a lifetime opportunity. As the deep rumble of World War II era radial engines filled the sky on February 21st and 22nd, spectators got an up-close look how the field may have appeared eighty years ago in February, 1943 when it was known as Brooksville Army Airfield.
The transformation was thanks to the Dallas based Commemorative Air Force (CAF) B-24/ B-29 Squadron, who stopped in Tuesday and Wednesday with their 2023 Airpower Tour. Aircraft on hand included a massive B-24 Liberator bomber, an RC-45J transport, a PT-13 Stearman biplane, a T-34 Mentor, and a T-6 Texan. A B-29 Superfortress bomber was originally scheduled for the tour but was canceled due to maintenance issues. CAF officials hope the B-29 will be able to join the tour at a later stop.
The Brooksville stop on the tour, which was hosted by the local Tampa Bay Wing of the CAF, offered attendees the opportunity to inspect firsthand an array of historic aircraft, and a some got the chance to take the ride of a lifetime.
Attendees quickly formed a line to walk through the B-24 Liberator, Diamond Lil. Spectators were able to walk through the entire aircraft, from the tail guns, past the .50 caliber waist guns, through the bomb bay, and up to the cockpit. One attendee commented that it wasn’t hard at all to let your mind wander back to World War II and what it must have been like to be in the bomber on a mission.
The B-24 was a mass-produced bomber in World War II, with over 18,000 rolling off the Consolidated Aircraft Company’s assembly line by the war’s end. No other bomber, including the fabled B-17, was produced in a greater number. The Diamond Lil was number 18 off the assembly line and is one of only two flying B-24’s remaining in the entire world.
Friends Jason Oliva of Land O’ Lakes and Chris Wojafousicz of Tampa were two of several attendees who took a 20-minute orientation flight in the Diamond Lil. When asked what the flight meant to him, Oliva said “The flight gave me a new perspective on how it must have been to be flying on that plane during the war, knowing that you only had a small chance of coming home.” Wojafousicz reflected on his flight in a different way. Wojafousicz explained that his grandfather, Army Air Corps 2nd Lieutenant William Hipple , had been assigned to B-24’s during his tour with the 15th Army Air Force in Foggia, Italy from 1944-1945. Wojafousicz said the sights and sounds he experienced during the flight made him feel a deeper connection to his grandfather and what his life must have been like.
Smiles were not hard to find all around, as other area residents took rides on the planes for a variety of reasons. Brooksville resident Pete Lehr celebrated his 83rd birthday with a ride in the open cockpit Stearman biplane, a gift from his wife. Brooksville resident Laura Lubik described her flight in a T-6 Texan trainer as “the dream of a lifetime.”
Brooksville was the third stop on an eleven city spring tour. After Brooksville, the Air Power Tour’s remaining Florida stops will include Titusville March 10-12, then Orlando, Daytona Beach, and Pensacola.
The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, which works to preserve aviation history by maintaining historic military aircraft in flying condition, honor the memory of the men and women who maintained and flew those aircraft, as well as to inspire the current generation of youth through education. Tour pilots and crews are all CAF volunteers. They participate in the tour to educate and inspire the public in military aviation history as well as to help generate the funds necessary to maintain the CAF’s fleet of historic aircraft.
Anyone interested in joining the Commemorative Air Force is invited to attend the Tampa Bay Wing monthly meeting at the EAA Hangar, Brooksville Airport on the third Saturday of each month. Meeting hours are generally from 10:00 AM – 12:00 noon. For more information, visit the CAF Website https://commemorativeairforce.org or contact Bart Graham Sr., Tampa Bay Wing Development Officer at 727-270-3447.