I recently had the pleasure of a flight on that B17 known as “The Aluminum Overcast” at the Chino Airport. The aircraft has been restored and is operated by the Experimental Aircraft Association, known as the EAA. This beautiful artifact of World War Two has much of the original equipment including bomb racks, radio equipment, machine guns and turrets and bomb site. It is powered by four huge 1200 horsepower propeller engines that give the aircraft quite a push at full power for take off. You can imagine those young men during the war experiencing that acceleration, the roar of four turbocharged engines deafening their ears as they headed off for a long flight over the English Channel. On our short half-hour flight it was noisy enough to wear ear plugs, and I wondered if those young aviators had ear plugs. They would have had heavy jackets because of high altitude and winter weather, quite the opposite of the IE winter. And of course, we did not have to face enemy fighters or antiaircraft fire, but in that old war bird its easy to imagine.
The best view was from the glass nose where the bombsite could be located. Once over the target, the bomb bay doors would open and the bombardier would guide the aircraft over the target. At that moment it was bombs away! All in a day’s work, they’d hit their targets and turn around and take the long flight back to England.
Our pilots—George Daubner and Sean Elliott—set us down flawlessly and taxied back to the ramp. There aren’t many pilots certified to fly a B17, as it takes special skills. There’s a ground crew that maintains the plane, as an aircraft over 50 years old needs tender love and care to keep it air worthy. Jerry Crawford was our crew chief, explaining how to use the seat belts and get around the aircraft.
With fewer and fewer of these great aircraft flying it will be harder to take a flight like the one I did. Accompanying us on our flight was Harry Selling, who worked at Lockheed when the war started but took the test and became a B17 pilot. He flew seven missions over Germany until his plane was shot down; he was the only survivor and spent nine months in a POW camp. Harry was one of those brave young men who experienced the B17 during the war.
Now you can experience this great war bird too.
The Aluminum Overcast will tour Southern California for the next two weeks. It will be in Chino April 3-5; San Diego April 7 and 8; Torrance April 10-12; Camarillo April 14 and 15; and Van Nuys from April 17-19. To tour the aircraft or book a flight call (920) 379-4244 or check the website at www.b17.org.