This year a new feature is coming to the Wings of Freedom Tour that is held the weekend after the Fourth. However, this new entry will not be featured at the Northern Colorado Regional Airport because, well, submarines cannot fly by themselves. Instead of heading to the airport, drive over to Horsetooth Reservoir for the experience of a lifetime with Fins der Fuhrer.
Ray Gilbert, 75, a former Naval submarine officer himself, has painstakingly and lovingly restored a Type IXC/40 German U-boat from World War II. He started the project when he was 30 but only finished it a couple of years ago.
“Yes, it did take awhile to complete; took a bit of money to do so also, and my wife was infinitely patient for the entire length of the project. It’s not like you can just fit the sub in your garage and start restoring. Heck, I even had to learn German in order to read some of the manuals that I found.”
While Mr. Gilbert attempted to find parts through contacts within both the United States and the European Union, most times it came down to using his own machinist, his best friend, Norman New, who was also at hand for the submarine’s voyages in Horsetooth.
“We took her out yesterday,” commented Mr. New, “and she’s running just fine. We don’t go too deep or too far just because we don’t have much of a crew and everything was restored according to strict standards. In other words, this baby does not run with an app or just a push of a button so we don’t want to push her too hard.”
So, does this mean that she will be available for rides to the public during the weekend tour? “Of course, that’s why we brought her out here!” exclaimed Mr. Gilbert.
The two are offering two types of rides: the full experience and the day-cruise. The full experience will have the submarine being submerged fully so that riders will get a feel for what it was like to be in a U-Boat, while the day-cruise will be riding outside. The latter will also perambulate the entire reservoir while the former will be half-out and then back. In between, to refit and refresh the sub, they will be doing short tours.
“To be able to accommodate both the submarine requirements and the fact that we will have civilian riders, we will be taking small groups. We will have a few more crew members as well but not a full complement,” said Mr. Gilbert. “It squeezes real tight in a U-boat. Besides that, some of the civvies just don’t pay attention! Once when I was trying to submerge, someone flooded the batteries instead of the ballast tanks.” A large plume of toxic chlorine gas ensued, ending tour operations for that day, Mr. Gilbert explained. “Well, at least nobody got asphyxiated or badly injured.”
There is understandably a price difference between the two experiences as well as the tour. The day-cruise will be $2200 a person while the full experience is $5000 per person. The tour, which will feature the bridge, sleep quarters, gallery and radio room, is available at $430 per person. There is an age limit of 14 or older for all experiences and a legal waiver the size of a Papal Encyclical.
Surprisingly, there are already waiting lists for the two types of rides. “And we’re almost full for just the tours,” said Mr. New. “I’m gonna have to get creative about the realism of the rides- ya know. Of course, U-Boats back then had no showers or laundry, so I’m thinking of adding a super BO and mold realism feature.”
Last question? “Of course, the guns work,” replied an exasperated Mr. Gilbert, referring to the 20 mm mount on the conning tower. “And we got the ammo for it too, in case the bomber pilots decide to play a re-enactment on us.”