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(Rock County, WI) Jake Magee, Gazette

For one weekend in July, the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport will be home to wartime aviation history as more than a dozen World War II and Vietnam War planes arrive for residents to see, touch and even ride.

During Heavy Bombers Weekend, an estimated 15,000 locals will come to tour these functioning combat planes used in famous global conflicts.

“These are flying museums, so it's a really unique opportunity to see these aircraft still in operation,” event coordinator Pete Buffington said. “There's an emotional response that's felt when you see these aircraft start and blow out smoke. …It's something that you can't put into words.”

Residents can meet local veterans who flew these mechanical marvels. Many of them haven't stepped inside a war plane in decades. Several come out with tears running down their faces, Buffington said.

“It's a healing event for them,” he said. “It's a pretty amazing sight.”

Heavy Bombers Weekend occurs right before Oshkosh's Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture, the largest plane show of its kind in the world. The weekend might feature surprise appearances by planes heading to that event, Buffington said.

While the event doesn't feature an air show, those willing to shell out big bucks can take 30-minute rides in some of the planes. A single-engine plane ride starts at $95, but getting a lift in some of the top-of-the-line planes can cost more than $2,000, he said.

“It's kinda like a bucket list item,” Buffington said.

The event has been held in Madison since its inception almost four years ago. This is the first year it's coming to Janesville. It likely will alternate between the two cities in the future, Buffington said.

“It's quite the event coming to Janesville,” he said, noting the new market and potential attendees. “We're really excited to bring it Janesville.”

The Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport is a great location, partly because it has less air traffic than Madison, Buffington said. The show won't affect the airport's normal operations at all, Buffington said he was told. In fact, it will give the airport the attention an airport of its size deserves.

“It'll be cool to see the flurry of activity back there,” he said.

One thing organizers like is that the airport has a control tower for greater safety. It also will have an extra ground controller working that weekend, Buffington said.

This year's Rockford AirFest and Milwaukee Air & Water Show have been postponed until 2017, which means turnout for Heavy Bombers Weekend might be better than originally projected, Buffington said.

“I think we're going to see quite a few more numbers than what we were anticipating, which is a good thing,” he said.

The Gazette was unable to reach an airport representative before deadline.

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