According to the Tribune, “Sentimental Journey” will visit Bismarck this Thursday through Sunday. It’s a B-17 bomber available for five dollar tours and $425 rides, and it’s worth visiting. I’ve had the opportunity to check out this plane from head to toe, and here’s a preview.
I took some time a few years ago to visit the B-17 bomber that was parked near Executive Air for the better part of the work week. It’s cool to see such a piece of history, especially since it’s a piece of technology and military hardware at the same time.
It wouldn’t be a truly nostalgic WW2 era plane without some 1930’s – shaped woman painted on the side (Betty Grable in this case). I couldn’t help but think of the old 1980s video game “B-17 Bomber” on the Mattel Intellivision game console. A friend of mine had that game and the expensive Speech Synthesis module, which allowed many of its games to “talk. B-17 Bomber was one such game. Thanks to the Internet, you can listen to the introductory sound from that game by clicking here
What a big machine, don’t you think? When the news of possible hail or a tornado came in last night, this plane was moved into the BP hangar on site. It barely fit; it had to be rolled in by hand, with four guys on each wheel to move its weight, and its gun almost touched the hangar doors once closed. There were “little planes” tucked under each wing as well, but the mighty Flying Fortress fit. Say that three times fast.
Payload. One of the types of bombs dropped by these planes was called a Thunderbug. That’s just one of the fun nicknames that military folks came up with for various hardware and ordinance, and it shows they have a sense of humor. These obviously aren’t real, otherwise I’d be trying to strap one onto my motorcycle for use on a tailgater! Now let’s take a walk through this majestic aircraft…
This is the forward gun turret. Note the picture of someone’s lady on the left side wall. This would be a pretty crazy place to be when the fighting got hectic! I can’t even imagine. I think the fella who did the calculations for the bomb trajectories was located up here as well as the forward gunners.
This is the cockpit, one of the few places with windows that don’t have a gun sticking out of them. It must be a challenge to taxi a “tail-dragger” aircraft like this one…in fact, a friend of mine was near an accident at Oshkosh a few years ago where a little plane cut in front of a big plane on the tarmac. The propeller of the big plane sliced right through the little one. Messy. The pilots of planes like this have to zig-zag when they taxi so they can look out the side windows; the front windows point at the sky until they take off.
The bomb bay with doors open. That rail down the middle is the “walkway” for the plane’s crew. It’s about six inches wide. I had fun sneaking through there with my camera bag! It would be best to be skinny to be on a B-17 crew. I had that part covered, but then I decided to lug my gear with me.
This is where the radio operator sat, and there are a couple of jump seats as well. It’s pretty amazing to see how many crew positions are actually on this aircraft. I may have to hunt down a book about these guys…
I would have thought there’d be more bomb space and less crew space, but I really don’t know much about aircraft. Here you can see side guns as well as bunks for crew members, who I suppose rotated resting periods. This photo is somewhat out of sequence as it was taken from the rear of the aircraft, facing forward.
Firepower. The guys manning these guns were responsible for keeping this aircraft safe from enemy fighters. To do so requires some big guns, and there are big guns all over the B-17.
For $425 or so, you can take a ride on this plane, and even sit up in the nose turret. For $425, I think they should make these guns operational. Now that would be worth running to an ATM!
The aforementioned bunks. At the end of the fuselage is where the rear landing gear is stowed, and of course another gun position.
Thus endeth the tour. This was truly an amazing way to spend my lunch hour. It’s one thing to leisurely poke around this aircraft, looking at the old technology and trying to grasp a bit of history. It would have been another world entirely to dodge German or Japanese AA fire, fend off enemy fighters from a gun turret, and hopefully make it to the intended target and back safely. Oh yeah, and deliver the bomb payload on target. The people who fight for our country are incredible, but I think of World War Two stories and am in total awe.
“Sentimental Journey” will be in town from Thursday through Sunday. For more information or to reserve a flight, visit www.azcaf.org.