World War II Veteran Bill Halbert sat inside of the library of the Historical Aviation Memorial Museum on Friday as he waited for the arrival of the German Messerschmitt Me 262.
Halbert's fourth encounter with that German jet was going to happen soon at the Tyler Pounds Regional Airport, but the 88-year-old Kilgore native wasn't worried about getting shot down this time. The other three times his unit had been in contact with the German jet had been in April 1945, just before the end of the war.
"It was a frightening experience. ... The main thing was the speed," he said of the 600 mph flying speed of the German aircraft. Halbert said the jet was very difficult to shoot at, and that "there was no time to think -- I just had to react."
On April 17, 1945, the Messerschmitt Me 262 shot down two of the Martin Marauder twin-engine bombers in Halbert's unit.
"Two of the gunners who were flying in my formation then shot two of the German jets down," Halbert said.
He was 18 when he flew 42 combat missions over northern Italy and Germany, and he said he was excited to see the B-17 and B-26 bombers and P-51 fighter come in along with the Me 262 and the Huey helicopter.
"I think it's a wonderful opportunity for the younger generation to see the jet," Halbert said, adding that he considers it to be important to educate young people about World War II, especially when so many of the veterans are dying. He has been a docent at the museum for eight years and has shared his knowledge with visitors during that time.
The olive-color Me 262 flew in first on Friday at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport, with lightning-fast speed and a screaming sound that seemed as if it should have come from a much larger plane.
The bombers came in afterward, flying noticeably slower. The small and gleaming P-51 came in, riding the wing of the B-24.
Collings Foundation Pilot Frank Romaglia flew the Me 262 in Friday, and said it was the most difficult plane he had ever flown because of the 1930s-era equipment on it.
"There is no auto-pilot, and you are not able to relax in it," Romaglia, a retired Southwest Airlines pilot and Vietnam veteran said shortly after he exited the German jet.
Romaglia said he flew 185 missions over Laos and North Vietnam when he was with the Air Force. He is now a volunteer pilot with the Collings Foundation.
Loyd George, 92, a World War II pilot interviewed earlier in the week also had a close encounter with the Me 262 during his Air Force days. He stood looking at the replica of that jet as it sat on the tarmac at Tyler Pounds and said it looked the same as he remembered.
Pilot Frank Romaglia lands a German Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter jet replica at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport Friday afternoon. The plane is on exhibit at the Wings of Freedom Tour through Sunday. (Sarah A. Miller/Staff)