Big World War II bombers get tires changed in Blaine

Aviation enthusiasts visiting the Anoka County-Blaine Airport Saturday witnessed a rare event when two World War II heavy bombers were serviced.

The B-24J owned by the Collings Foundation, the only one of its type still flying worldwide, makes a turn while taxiing on the Key Air ramp. Photo by Bill Jones

The B-24J owned by the Collings Foundation, the only one of its type still flying worldwide, makes a turn while taxiing on the Key Air ramp. Photo by Bill Jones

The massive main landing gear tires on the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Flying Fortress and B-24J Liberator were removed and replaced with new rubber.

“It took pretty much all day,” said Michael Lawrence, Key Air operations manager.

The big bombers and a P-51C Mustang stopped in Blaine for a four-day visit.

Whitney Coyle, Collings Foundation B-24 ground mechanic who supervised the giant tire-changing effort, provided a succinct summary of the operation.

“Six hours, four tires. Not even NASCAR can beat that,” Coyle said, referring to the highly coordinated racing pit crews that perform a similar task.

The three historic World War II-era aircraft were parked on the Key Air ramp at the Anoka County-Blaine Airport as part of the 2012 Wings of Freedom Tour.

“It is rare that we change both the B-24 and B-17 tires at one time or tour stop. Very rare,” said Hunter Chaney, Collings Foundation director of marketing.

Each main gear tire weighs around 170 pounds, is 56 inches wide and costs about $3,500, he said. The tires are changed once or twice a tour season.

“That’s about 150 landings,” Chaney said. “We had plenty of support from the folks at the Golden Wings Museum and Key Air to help with the essential lifts.”

The tire changes required careful placement of screw jacks on the planes’ wings to provide support and additional jacks below to support the main gear struts.

“We visit around 110 cites every year,” Chaney said. “Our maintenance is done wherever we happen to be. This really drives home the living history premise.”

Coyle’s ties to the state include his mother, who lives in Willmar, and an uncle and cousin who live in Stillwater. Kevin and Spencer Strand helped change tires.

“I’d definitely like to come back here next year,” Coyle said. “Everybody on the ground has been great to work with and they’ve provided excellent service.”

Last weekend’s visit to Blaine was the Wings of Freedom Tour’s only stop at a Minnesota airport.

The four-day event also featured free Saturday and Sunday educational seminars with fighter, service and bomber crew members and pilots who went off to war as part of America’s Greatest Generation.

Tim Hennagir is at tim.hennagir@ecm-inc.com


  • Bob Scruggs

    Your photo of the P51 and the B-24 has in improper caption. It refers to the B-24 as a B-17. I can’t imagine you haven’t had numerous calls on this!

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