96-year-old WWII pilot takes flight again in Tampa

- At 96 years old, Bob Brocklehurst needs a little more help boarding a plane than he did back in the day.  But give him a second and he's right at home.

With a grin and a thumbs-up, the World War II veteran took off from Tampa in a P-51 Mustang, similar to those he flew in the war.

"I don't bend my legs like I used to, gentlemen," he said as he boarded the plane. "You think I'm calm, but I'm not. I'm standing about 35 feet up in the air, ready to go."

Once he's up in the air, he is surrounded by memories.

"I went back and landed that rascal. True story," he recalled.

On this flight, Bob wanted more than a trip down memory lane.

"We are all set for a loop, are we?" he asked.

He tested a few of his old tricks. Yes, he got to do the loop. He even did a barrel roll and he did it with skill.

"Just made me feel right at home. It's like putting the car in the garage. You do it without thinking," he said.

Bob served nearly 30 years in the Army Air Corps, later the Air Force. He enlisted before America entered World War II and he served two tours in Alaska with the Aleutian Island Campaign against Japanese forces which had occupied the territory.

"The weather was the worst enemy up there. We started off with 1,500 guys from flight school, graduated 971, we lost about 251 during the war years," he said.

The Alaskan terrain was some of the roughest any pilot would navigate during the war.

"We got on-the-job training, sort of speaking," he said.

The Collings Foundation made this flight possible. They said the real reward is getting to spend time with veterans like Bob.

"He is a rock star. He's a national treasure like the airplane. That's what I told him. I am flying with a national treasure," said volunteer pilot Brian Norris.

As the number of World War II veterans continues dwindling, Bob hopes his story and others will live on.

"I think it's important that the young people remember there was a war and it wasn't all parades and all beautiful flying in the skies," he said.

The Wings of Freedom tour will be located at the Venice Airport at 400 Airport Ave E. until Sunday February 19. It costs $5 for kids and $15 for adults.

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