WWII planes draw crowds on Wings of Freedom tour
By KENT JACKSON | Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, Pa. | Published: August 21, 2019
HAZLE TOWNSHIP, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — As planes from World War II landed, Bob Considine thought of his father, who flew in combat.
Thomas Considine started his career in the Army Air Corps piloting P-40 Warhawks, one of which arrived at Hazleton Regional Airport with the Wings of Freedom tour on Tuesday.
When patrolling the Caribbean, if Thomas Considine spotted an enemy submarine, he would fire the trio of machine guns on each wing of the P-40. Pilots said they gave the sub the whole 9 yards — a reference to the length of the ammunition belts — after emptying their guns.
Thomas Considine flew fighter planes for a year or so in the Caribbean before the Army retrained him. Next he flew B-24 bombers into Germany and Austria on missions escorted by a newer, larger fighter plane, the P-51 Mustang, his son said of two other planes that arrived with the tour.
P-51 Mustangs carried more fuel and could fly whole missions with the bombers, which previously flew unprotected over targets in Nazi territory after the smaller P-40s had to turn around.
Thomas Considine later said the escorts from P-51s and the P-40s were as different as night and day. The Mustangs increased the chances that the bomber crews would return to base, although their odds of surviving remained daunting.
He came back home to Wilkes-Barre after flying more than 800 hours during the war.
Even before the war, he overcame adversity. Leaving high school so he could care for younger siblings after their parents died, the elder Considine became a newspaper printer. But when the Army offered tests for pilot recruits at the Forty Fort Airport, Thomas Considine, the dropout, and four college graduates passed and became trainees.
Considine showed his smarts while taking a new B-24 from Newfoundland to Europe. The wings started icing over — and his teenaged crew members started to lose their cool — until the pilot, whom they called the old man because he was in his 20s, found a break in the clouds. Considine kept circling until sun melted the ice.
After the war, he returned to newspaper work, retired as the circulation manager for The Citizens’ Voice, now a Times-Shamrock newspaper, and didn’t talk much about combat before dying in 1999. His son heard many of the stories from his fathers’ mates at reunions, but said his dad liked being a pilot.
“I wish my father was still around,” Bob Considine said. “He loved flying.”
The vintage planes still pull in crowds.
“Oh man, you look at some of the crawl spaces, I guess the life of a tail gunner was real short,” Jim Mott of Tresckow, a Marine who fought in Vietnam, said while looking at bubble glass in the back of a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.
Scott Quick of Hazle Twp., a former Navy helicopter mechanic, wore a B-17 T-shirt that he purchased from the tour during a previous stop in Hazleton. Sales of souvenirs and tickets for sightseeing flights allow the Collings Foundation to keep the old planes airborne.
Joan Evans said she heard one of the planes overhead when she and her husband, Donald, an Army veteran, stopped for gas on the way to the airport.
“We come every year,” said Joan, whose father, Nevin Trosch, was a soldier in World War II and whose grandfather, Adam Gerlock, fought in World War I.