Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fifth Annual Wings of Dreams Airfest returns to Keystone Heights

The year is 1943. Rosie the Riveter is encouraging women on the home front as soldiers are sent overseas. Zoot suits, jazz and American pride reign supreme.

Fast forward 70 years; this World War II culture can be found at the 5th Annual Wings of Dreams Airfest at Keystone Heights Airport.

Seeing rare warbird planes — including the B-17 Flying Fortress and the only restored and fully operational B-24 — along with first-hand accounts of wartime experiences and aerial performances are just some of the experiences visitors will have from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, and 9 to 11 a.m. Monday.

Bob Oehl, executive director for Wings of Dreams, said nobody encompasses this time period better. “We turn this place back to 1943,” he says.

This year’s event is expected to have the largest number of World War II veterans in attendance, including seven Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), five Iwo Jima survivors, two Tuskegee Airmen and one Pearl Harbor survivor, Oehl says.

“Instead of watching a Hollywood movie or reading a book, you can personally ask them questions about what was done to save our world,” he says.

The last event, held in 2010, drew 20,000 people out from all over the country. Oehl says he expects the same turn out this year.

Visitors can see flight demonstrations and tour bombers for a tax-deductible donation ($12, $6 ages 12 and younger) and attend veteran symposiums. This year the Airfest will offer expanded youth activities, such as building a model airplane and then having a veteran who flew the same model sign the wing.

World War II re-enactors, a classic car show and a veteran tribute concert also will entertain visitors.

The signature event of the weekend, the Big Band Hangar Dance, will feature a 20-piece swing band performing the classic songs from the era. For $45 a ticket, guests will enjoy a 1940s-style dinner buffet and swing-dance performances in a decorated airplane hangar reminiscent of 1940s USO shows.

Oehl said the activities are free for veterans because they have already paid their country.

“This is going back to the roots and sacrifices made by these men and women,” he said. “Now we owe them.”

The air show also features such rare World War II planes as a B-24 Liberator — the last of its kind.

The B-17 Flying Fortress, a four-engine heavy bomber, is one of the most recognizable planes in the war and will be making an appearance this weekend. There are only eight left in the world.

Oehl said he believes the most important aspect of the event is hearing the stories of those who fought in the war. He hopes people of all ages will learn about their country’s history.

“If you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it.”

The 5th Annual Wings of Dreams Airfest

What: Aerial fly-bys and performances, demonstrations, hands-on activities and appearances by the Collings Foundation’s “Wings of Freedom Tour” offering tours and rides in a B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator and TP-51C Mustang.

When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, 9-11 a.m. Monday

Where: Keystone Heights Airport, 7100 Airport Road, Starke
Admission: $5, $2 children 5-12, free for World War II veterans and children 4 and younger.

Flights: Rides available in the Collings Foundation planes with tax deductible donations ranging from $425 to $3,200, call 800-568-8924 or see

Dance: Big Band Hangar Dinner/Dance, 6 p.m. Saturday, $45; benefits the Wings of Dreams Foundation.