The past came roaring back for Nelson Woodford when two vintage World War II bombers landed Sunday at John Wayne Airport.
"Man, what I'd give to be in one of these things again," Woodford, 68, a retired Air Force sergeant, said as he stood near a B-24 bomber. "If I could join the Air Force again right now I'd do it."
Like hundreds of others, Woodford came to the airport for a glimpse of the past. A B-24 Liberator bomber and a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress made the nearly 100-mile flight between Oxnard and Orange County as part of the Wings of Freedom Tour.
The planes will remain at the Signature Flight Support Center at John Wayne Airport until Wednesday, where the public can view them from the ground for free or tour the bombers for a donation of $7 for adults and $3 for children.
Woodford maintains monthly contact with his military past, meeting with other veterans to trade stories and listen to speakers.
He couldn't resist the chance Sunday to revisit that past, recalling the days when he would crouch in the belly of a freezing plane, his hands encased in thick gloves as he fired a hammering machine gun.
"See that guy there?" Woodford said, pointing to a name in the list on the side of the gray B-24 bomber, which flew 85 missions during the war. "I flew with that guy."
The visiting planes also drew many who never served.
Many of Dr. Tom McLaughlin's patients are World War II veterans, and he's witnessed the B-17 in flight before. "Still haven't seen this one," McLaughlin, of Coto de Caza, said as he looked over the B-24.
Not everyone was there by design.
While preparing for his 10:30 a.m. flight lesson at Oxnard Airport on Sunday, George Meyer was approached by a member of the B-17 crew who asked him to fill in as a co-pilot.
Meyer was tempted but deferred to his instructor, Frank Surfas. Although the flight was not due to leave Oxnard until nearly 2 p.m., both men gladly waited.
"There's a lot of nostalgia to fly on a plane like that," Surfas said. "It's loud and it's noisy and the seat's not comfortable and it can make you understand what they went through."
Although the pair didn't steer the plane, both said the ride was worth it for the view. Unlike most modern planes, the B-17 has several windows that face down.
"You can see pretty much the whole coast just from that one space," Meyer said.
And perhaps best of all, the pair saved themselves the usual flight fee, which can be as much as $350 an hour.
"Maybe next time they'll let us fly," said Surfas as he scanned the sky, looking for a friend who was flying in to take them back to Oxnard.