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Storied warbirds to visit

Long before stealth bombers, jet fighters and "smart bombs," B-24 Liberators and B-17 Flying Fortresses took America to war. Together with other Allied aircraft, these bombers played a major role in thwarting the Axis forces in World War II.

Today through Thursday two of these aircraft _ a B-17, the Nine-O-Nine and a B-24, the All American) _ will fly into the Tampa Bay area for a visit, offering visitors the unusual opportunity to reach back a half-century to touch, see and learn about a part of history. Some will go aboard for early morning flights.

The planes are scheduled to make the following stops:

Today through Sunday at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport's Signature Aviation, intersection of 49th Street and Roosevelt Boulevard, Hanger One (arrival: 2:30 p.m. today. departure: 2 p.m. Sun.).

Tampa International Airport (arrival: 3 p.m. Sun. departure: 2 p.m. Tues.).

Brooksville's Hernando County Airport, U.S. 41, just south of downtown Brooksville (arrival: 3 p.m. Tues., departure: 2 p.m. Thurs.).

To reach Hanger One at Tampa International Airport, travel north on Westshore Boulevard to the airport, then turn right and drive one block. The site is at the south end of the airport.

While at each site, visitors can view the plane from behind the airport's fences or, for $7 for adults and $3 for children, visit them up close _ and climb through each aircraft. Each morning at 7:15 a.m., before the exhibit opens to the public, the planes will take to the air for a "dawn patrol." Six visitors each day can climb aboard with the "dawn patrol" for $300. Admission charges and the "dawn patrol" fees are applied to the cost of preserving the planes.

The B-24 Liberators, the most produced American aircraft to date, dropped more bombs and flew more missions than any other World War II American aircraft. The All American is the only fully restored and flying B-24 in the world.

The B-17 Flying Fortress was an extremely effective World War II high-altitude strategic bomber noted for its ability to absorb tremendous damage and bring its crew back alive. After years of non-combat service (it was produced too late for use in the war), the B-17 on display was restored to its wartime configuration by Tom Reilly Vintage Aircraft and renamed the Nine-O-Nine in honor of its historic World War II cousin.

These planes tour the nation as flying museum pieces. From the Tampa Bay area, the planes will move on to Ocala, Perry and Lake City.

For information, call 343-3312 (St. Petersburg-Clearwater), 839-5504 (Tampa) or (904) 686-7513 (Brooksville).