History arrives with wings, sails - The Buffalo News

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History arrives with wings, sails

It’s the late 1800s at Canalside, and the 1940s in Cheektowaga. One attraction is floating, and the other will soon be flying.

Two symbols of yesteryear have arrived in the Buffalo area. And members of the community have an opportunity to experience both worlds in the next few days.

In Cheektowaga, a B-24 Liberator bomber – “Diamond Lil” – from the World War II era had crowds buzzing Tuesday, while “The Peacemaker” tall ship is docked at Canalside for the week.

“Diamond Lil,” the world’s oldest flying bomber, opened for tours at Prior Aviation on Tuesday morning. Among those touring the plane was Michael Diemert, who choked back tears as he anticipated seeing the inside of the vintage warplane.

“To me it’s exceptional, because I get to step into that airplane that my dad worked on,” said Diemert, 63, of Newfane.

His late father, Staff Sgt. Donald Diemert, was a crew chief in a B-24.

The Commemorative Air Force takes Diamond Lil on 6-week tours three to four times a year.

“You hear about them, but you never get to see one up close and inside,” said Darren DeSantis, 48, of Depew. “It’s almost crude inside there. You think of an airplane, you think of a luxury plane with nice seats. You get to this one, it’s all wires and cables and bombs. It’s almost scary.”

“Your great-grandfather used to sit in those seats,” one father told his children as aircraft commander Allen Benzing explained how he controls the plane.

Benzing hears that all the time from visitors.

B-24s gained a reputation for being workhorses as heavy bombers used by every branch of the U.S. armed forces and other members of the Allies during World War II.

Numerous veterans attended the open house Tuesday.

George Wilcox, 87, of Williamsville, flew over the Pacific in World War II. He’s had an affinity for aeronautics since he built his first model plane in second grade.

Dan Wortham, 91, of the Town of Tonawanda, did maintenance on B-24s as a mechanic.

Lou Fetto, 82, of Cheektowaga, worked on Navy aircraft carriers in the Korean War. His three older brothers fought in World War II, and his oldest brother was a gunner in a B-17 Flying Fortress.

The B-24 was a more modern plane than the well-known B-17. The B-24 was faster and could carry a heavier bomb load, but it was a more challenging plane to navigate. Out of the 18,482 B-24s that were produced, Diamond Lil is one of the two still flying.

“It’s about capturing something out of the past,” Fetto said. “I’ve read about it, heard about it in music, seen it in movies. I’ve almost lived it at this point.”

Richard DeSantis, 78, of Depew, said the plane looked like it was produced rapidly – at one point, it would take merely 50 to 55 minutes at the Ford factory to produce a new B-24, according to Benzing.

Diamond Lil last visited Western New York in August 2004. The crew will offer rides in the plane today for $375.

An hour after Diamond Lil opened Tuesday, The Peacemaker cruised into Canalside.

One construction worker described it as “a pirate ship.” Its towering white sails, navy blue and brown sides and triumphal wooden beams have brought a spirit of adventure to the waterfront.

The Peacemaker will be open for tours Friday through Sunday.

“People are becoming more and more isolated,” said ship captain Larry Clinton. “The ship represents a different kind of life.

“Not only do you work with somebody, but you sit across the table from them at breakfast; you’re up with them in the rain in the middle of the night hoisting sails. Seeing the crew working together, it strikes a chord in people.”

The Peacemaker visited Canalside in September following a tour of the Great Lakes, and the crew – based in Savannah, Ga., but containing members from four continents – decided to stay in North Tonawanda for the winter.

The Peacemaker was built in Brazil using traditional methods and launched in 1989. It is a big ship, displacing 400 tons and with a main mast 126 feet high.

The crew lived in the ship and did maintenance on it at Smith Boys Marina during the winter. Clinton said it was the people in the region who inspired him and his crew to stay.

‘The Peacemaker’

What: Tour an 1800s-themed tall ship built on a riverbank in southern Brazil

Where: Canalside, 44 Prime St., Buffalo

When: Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.

to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Adults, $5; children 7 to 12, $3;

ages 6 and younger, free

‘Diamond Lil’

What: Tour or ride one of the two B-24 bombers that are still flying

Where: Prior Aviation, 50 N. Airport Drive, Cheektowaga

When: Today, with availability of flights depending on the weather

Cost: $5 for tours; $375 for flights

email: amansfield@buffnews.com

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