By Donna Littlejohn, Daily Breeze
A piece of World War II flew into Torrance airport Monday when the restored B-24 Witchcraft — the same war plane model that famed bombardier Louis Zamperini was on when he crashed into the Pacific Ocean — touched down for three days of public tours.
Arriving about noon Monday after its 30-minute trip from Santa Barbara, the Witchcraft was opened up for tours, attracting lines of children and adults of all ages who waited to get a peek inside.
Among the B-24 passengers was Zamperini’s son, Luke, of Tarzana. It was the third time he’d flown on a B-24 — and his father also was a passenger on the restored Witchcraft a few years ago. He said flying on the old planes always renewed his appreciation of what his father’s generation endured.
Asked if he felt his late father’s presence being on the plane, he said, “I feel my dad with me always.”
Louis Zamperini grew up on Torrance and has long been feted as a hometown hero.
His story, “Unbroken,” was the subject of a best-selling book and hit film directed by Angelina Jolie. But he died of complications from pneumonia last July at the age of 97, missing the long-anticipated release of the film in December.
Since then, his son, daughter and grandson have been picking up many of the speaking engagements that once were Zamperini’s forte.
Dozens of people turned out Monday to get a look at the plane that will be on display through Wednesday along with a P-1 Mustang, the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-25 Mitchell on Zamperini Field at Torrance Municipal Airport.
It’s all part of the Collings Foundation’s “Wings of Freedom Tour 2015” hosted by the Western Museum of Flight. Tours will be offered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, with opportunities to sign up for flights on Tuesday morning and evening and Wednesday morning. The planes leave at about noon Wednesday.
Flight spaces can be reserved by calling
1-800-568-8924 or 1-978-618-6626. Costs range from $400 to $3,200, depending on the plane, number of passengers and duration of the flight.
Ground tours are $12 for adults and $6 for children 12 and under. World War II and Korean War veterans will be admitted free.
Walking through the B-24 was an emotional experience for Gary Pirnat of La
Mirada, whose uncle, Charles Acker of Connecticut, was a radio operator killed in a B-24 crash in Colorado during World War II. Acker was only about 20 when he was killed several years before Pirnat was born, an incident that had a major impact on the family for years to come.
The B-24, with a wingspan of 110 feet, once carried up to 8,800 pounds of bombs and a 10-man crew. It was outfitted with machine guns.
Descriptions and scenes of Zamperini’s Green Hornet suffering engine failure and going down into the ocean are among the most intense in the book and film about his life. Zamperini spent 47 days barely surviving on a raft with three crew members — one died at sea — before they were picked up by the Japanese and taken to POW camps.
Torrance City Councilman Tim Goodrich, whose grandfather served in World War II, was among the 10 people who rode the Witchcraft from Santa Barbara. His old U.S. Air Force earplugs came in handy, he said, for what was a noisy ride on the old, rather primitive plane.
Luke Zamperini said he did some exploring on the flight, crawling under the flight deck and into the lower nose compartment where the bombardier did his target sighting work.
He said the old plane was akin to a “flying jalopy.”
Since their flight would take them out over the Pacific Ocean, Zamperini asked the pilot before takeoff if there were life rafts on board.
He said he couldn’t help it.
“It’s a family thing,” he said with a shrug.