On Sept. 6, 1944, Navy Lt. Harry Brown Jr., then 24, took off in an F6F Hellcat fighter from the USS Enterprise for what was expected to be a milk run strike at Yap island, in the western Pacific. Yap had already been pounded by American bombers, but as Brown swept over the island his plane was hit by Japanese anti-aircraft fire and it crashed into the jungle.
Nothing more was definitively known about Brown until 2008 when his remains were found in his crashed fighter by members of History Flight, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to researching and locating the remains of more than 78,000 American service members still missing in action in World War II.
Indiana-area residents in mid-June will have the opportunity to contribute to those MIA recovery efforts.
History Flight raises money for its searches by giving rides in a small collection of WW II-era planes, and the organization’s “Until They’re Home” Barnstormer Tour is coming to the Indiana County/Jimmy Stewart Airport June 15-16 during the airport’s annual summer festival. Scheduled to be available for rides are a B-25H Mitchell bomber, an AT-6 Texan trainer and a PT-17 Stearman biplane trainer.
The B-25, named “Barbie III,” is the only H model Mitchell in the world still flying, according to History Flight. B-25s were the planes used in the Doolittle Raid on Japan.
The PT-17 open cockpit biplane was the primary trainer for Army and Navy pilots in WW II. Many PT-17s became crop dusters after the war.
And the AT-6 Texan was an advanced trainer during WW II and into the 1950s.
Donna Januik, general sales manager for Florida-based History Flight, said at events like the Indiana County/Jimmy Stewart Airport festival, History Flight typically gives 20 or 25 rides per day.
Up to seven passengers at a time may take 30-minute rides on the B-25 for a tax-deductible fee of $495 per person.
The Stearman and AT-6 are both two-seater aircraft with dual controls capable of taking up only one passenger at a time.
A 15-minute flight in either plane is $325 and a 30-minute flight — which can include some aerobatics and combat maneuvers if the passenger wishes — is $495. One-hour flights in either of the trainers cost $845.
Januik said most passengers schedule their flights by calling History Flight in advance at (888) 743-3311. More information is also available at www.HistoryFlight.com.
History Flight conducted seven privately funded all-volunteer MIA searches in 2012 in the Pacific and Europe. A team in June will return to Normandy to continue one of those searches.
Januik said History Flight search teams, comprised of five to 12 specialists with varied expertise, sometimes use ground-penetrating radar and cadaver dogs in their searches. History Flight teams have located the remains of more than 200 MIAs at remote battlefields and crash sites in the Pacific and Europe.
The June 15-16 festival at the Jimmy Stewart Airport will also feature the last remaining WW II-era C-46 Commando transport plane still flying in the lower 48 states. It was scrubbed from last summer’s festival lineup because of mechanical problems.