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All-enlisted crew pilots historic aircraft over memorial

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Oct. 14, 2006) -- As spectators at the Air Force Memorial dedication events looked skyward to an airborne parade of both modern and historic military aircraft, it probably didn't occur to them that one of the flying crews represented something special.

The B-24 Liberator was but one of perhaps a dozen military aircraft, both active and retired, to fly over the Air Force Memorial here Oct. 14. But the Liberator was the only aircraft overhead to feature a crew made up entirely of active duty enlisted members.

Chief Master Sgt. Fred Lewis of the Tactical Air Control Center at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. piloted the plane. The chief has been in the Air Force about 28 years and earned his pilot's license as an Airman. Today, the chief spends some of his free time as a pilot with the Collings Foundation of Stowe, Mass., which is involved in preserving historic aircraft and helping members of the general public learn more about aviation history.

Chief Lewis's father was an enlisted radio operator aboard the B-24 when it was still flying with the Air Force. The chief said his father, like many other enlisted fliers, was very young at the time and bore a lot of responsibility in carrying out their flying duties. It was that memory, he said, that inspired him to invite an all-enlisted crew to participate in the Air Force Memorial flyover.

"I thought it would be appropriate to get an all-enlisted crew out here," he said. "I think a lot about all the young kids who flew in these planes. And I hope when we fly this aircraft over the memorial, there are a lot of veterans there, and the spirit of those kids is with them."

Chief Lewis also said he believes the Air Force Memorial represents, in part, the support the United States has for today's Air Force. When he joined the Air Force in the mid-1970's, the United States had just come out of the Vietnam conflict. Many in America, he said, did not support those who chose military service. But the dedication of the Air Force Memorial demonstrates a change in public opinion.

"The Air Force Memorial represents a coming of age," he said. "Those in the Air Force now have the support of the nation, and there are a lot of sacrifices of our predecessors represented here at the memorial."