The only camp in the world where you can experience what it was like to load and drop bombs from WWII bombers.
Bright sunlight glitters in the bluebird sky as streaks of white contrails stream behind the lumbering bomber force like beacons pointing the way. Dream-like in flight, little is heard save the roar of engines and cold wind. Frosty oxygen masks work hard to keep life flowing and the men themselves strain their weary eyes to keep vigil at 20,000 feet. With no warning a dark cloud appears above and to the right moving quickly toward the formation. What seems to be a swarm of insects suddenly turns into the bombers and the cloud is now individual specks growing larger by the second. The intercom screams, “Bandits, 2 o’clock high!” Machine guns turn in unison to the coming threat while enemy fighters fly into range. First one burst of fire is seen from a neighboring B-17, and then twenty or more streaks of tracers are unleashed at the gray intruders. Twinkles on the wings of the enemy fighters show evil intent and what looks like popping flashbulbs appear around the bombers. Like a hailstorm swiftly passing, the enemy vanishes and is replaced by a hundred puffs of greasy smoke. Flak engulfs the heavily laden planes. For a moment the formation flies straight and level and a rush of wind announces that the bomb bay doors are open. Every muscle and nerve is tight with anticipation and fear. The intercom crackles with the welcome words, “Bombs Away!” A collective sigh of relief is breathed by over a hundred men… now they can head home…
These flashes of history crowd the senses of participants in the one of a kind Bomber Camp as they fly a “mission.” This experience is the realized vision of Taigh Ramey, owner of Vintage Aircraft in Stockton, California. He felt that the Living History Flight Experiences and Aircraft Tours offered by organizations were just not enough to truly show modern audiences what the people of the 1940s went through in WWII. He believes that to truly understand what it was like for the men who trained and fought in the US Army Air Forces that it had to be experienced firsthand. Taigh talked with Rob Collings of the Collings Foundation and asked what he thought about dropping concrete bombs, shooting machineguns and operating turrets on the Collings Foundation’s B-24 “Witchcraft.” Bomber Camp was born. Soon the WWII Living History organization, “The Arizona Ground Crew Living History Unit, Inc.” and some other dedicated historians responded to the call for action and met at Stockton Field California to load 250lb concrete bombs and blank adapted guns onto Witchcraft.
The first mission was flown with a crew of WWII USAAF Veterans in May, 2007. The Veterans got a chance to get back into their old crew position and feel as though they were young again as they took off into the wild blue yonder on a bombing mission. For this mission, there was no enemy aircraft or FLAK to be concerned with, a first for our crew of Veterans. This was merely a test run though, because Taigh had bigger plans, he intended to repeat this mission again with student participants or “Cadets” as they would be called.
The Cadet Class of 44-1 assembled at the Stockton Field Aviation Museum Hangar on May 28, 2008 in the early morning hours. The next 48 hours would be an immersive experience into the culture, lifestyle and training indicative of 1944. Cadets learned aerial navigation, bombing principles (including the operation of the Norden Bombsight), aerial gunnery, military drill, operation of the ball turret and top turret. They trained on the live fire gunnery range with various small arms working up to the turret trainer truck and the ANM2 Caliber 50 Machinegun. Back at the Airfield they trained in the ball turret trainer so that they would be able to operate the ball turret in flight. On day two, Class 44-1 assisted with the loading of 250lb concrete bombs into the bomb bay of Witchcraft. Underwent a mission briefing and then flew off into the unknown on a bombing mission. The waist guns blazed away and the ball turret spun as the gunner searched for any sign of enemy aircraft in the area. As the plane approached the target area the bomb bay doors opened and the Norden Bombsight put the bombs right onto the target just as it had done 64 years ago.
This scene has been repeated nearly every year since, with a B-24 or B-17, adding new components to the training, atmosphere and program for each new Cadet Class. But now in 2016 we’re gonna up the ante! The Cadet Class of 44-7 will be using the B-24 “Witchcraft”, B-17 “909” and the B-25 “Tondelayo” in combined bomber operations. Hap Arnold, Chief of the Air Corps would be proud to know that this will be the Largest WWII bomber sortie of its kind in recent history! Nowhere else will you be able to help to bring WWII aviation back to life in such a unique and special way. It is truly an amazing experience.
If you are over 18 or 16 with a legal guardian accompanying you, have a desire to truly experience the training that the “Greatest Generation” went through and want to fly your own bomber mission, you are a candidate for Class 44-7. You can enlist at www.planetreg.com/E610101818154966 or contact the Recruiting Command Center at 209-982-0273. Follow them on Facebook too: Bomber Camp.
Cost for Bomber Camp is $4000.00 and includes all training materials, uniforms, equipment, ammunition, food and lodging. Cadets stay in a hotel from Tuesday, May 31st until Friday, June 3rd. Training will be from Tuesday May 31st at 1800 hrs until Thursday June 2nd in the evening. With food provided from the 1944 Army Cookbook and while training with the 3033rd Army Air Forces Base Unit, 60th Training Squadron, Stockton Army Air Field, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into an incredible time warp. Travel expenses to and from Stockton, California are the responsibility of the individual Cadet.