On Memorial Day, the world's only dual control P-51C Mustang drew nearly 1,000 visitors to Livermore Municipal Airport.
Two days later, the smart money was on the tarmac at Buchanan Field in Concord, where crowds were thin and access to the Collings Foundation's 23rd Wings of Freedom Tour was a breeze.
Founded in 1979, the foundation preserves and honors the history of World War II aircraft and the veterans who flew them. An estimated 3 million to 4 million people see the planes annually. For some, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"I took one woman up and sat her in the B-17," recalled pilot and mechanic Derick Ward, who was on-site in Concord to lead the tour. "Her dad, who died before she was born, had flown them in the war. She just balled and balled: she told me it was the closest she'd ever been to him."
Tears and smiles are the most common responses, Ward said -- and questions revolving around numbers.
"People want to know how many bombs a B-17 carried (6,000-8,000 pounds), how many crew (10), how fast (250 mph), how much it costs to fill the tank ($1,320 for enough gas to fly one hour) and how hard it was to fly," he explained.
Educating the public about aviation history is a big part of what drew Ward to the tour. Nicknamed "Otter" for the Twin Otter airplanes he used to fly in Alaska, he reveled in delivering a bucketload of facts to people like Richard and Althea Roderick of Martinez.
"There's only one of these planes left," Roderick said. "I told my wife, if that plane ever comes here, I'm going to get it."
A flight experience comes with a hefty price tag: $2,200 for a 30-minute opportunity to streamline at 400 mph behind pilot and Danville resident Stu Eberhardt.
"I flew F-86's for the Air Force and now own a P-51 for racing," Eberhardt said.
Like many of the volunteers who work on the tour, Eberhardt grew up building model airplanes and flew commercially for Pan Am and Delta.
"But they don't make airplanes for pilots to enjoy now; they just make them to do a job," he said, adding, "this plane, the P-51, they managed to do both."
Gabbie Twigg, a 7-year old from Oakley, said the first flight of her life was scary at takeoff, but being in the air was "wonderful." She was hesitant about going up in a B-17, but leaned against the craft's expansive wings and said the plane was used to "defeat the enemy," and therefore, should be preserved.
Her mother, Jennifer Twigg, agreed.
"This is a part of history, of our nation, of freedom and what people had to sacrifice for us to live without fear," she said.
Ward is responsible for the extensive inspections the aircraft must undergo. Every 25, 50 and 100 hours of flight time, the planes must be inspected and repaired. He worries that planes will eventually be grounded -- not due to any problems, but just because of their age.
"It's wrong, because these are the most enduring planes, especially compared to planes today, which are built to last only 20 years or so," Ward protested.
Roderick, sliding down the P-51's wing for a spirited dismount, was almost too excited for words.
"Fantastic! Outstanding!" he exclaimed. "I did turn and bank, steep dives, everything! I think I missed my calling: I should have been a fighter pilot."
His wife patted him on the shoulder, then revealed her own life's dream: in two years, upon the occasion of her 80th birthday, Althea Roderick intends to sky-dive for the first time in her life.
The fascination with air travel of all kinds continues, much to the joy of the Collings Foundation and the public, both young and young-at-heart.