B-17G “Sentimental Journey” — part 2
I was privileged to fly aboard the “big bird” on a VIP/media flight during the June 17 to 21 visit to Springfield, Illinois. This would be my third flight in this B-17, so I was happy to sit in the rear-most seat in the airplane for the flight while others — particularly the TV news station crew and newspaper reporters — take the prime spots. There would be time to walk around the airplane after “wheels up,” so I was happy to be aboard at all, and glad to sit where I had never sat before.
This picture, taken early in the morning on July 18 shows the clean machine before the crowds arrived and bomb bay doors were extended to help ventilate the airplane. The shadow is that of the “Stars and Stripes” flying in the breeze from the parking lot flag pole.
A veteran of World War II would also be flying. I’m sorry I did not get his name. Earlier this year he had been aboard an Honor Flight of veterans to Washington, DC. His son escorted him on both occasions.
Nancy Hermes, left, is with the Springfield Airport Authority. She rode in the radio room.
Here is the view from my seat. That’s my foot in the foreground. The door is the rear crew entry/exit door. The tail gunner door was further back, behind the tail wheel. I didn’t expect to take many memorable flights, but I understood I’d have time after we were cruising above Springfield.
With a little telephoto action from my seat I took this pic of the tarmac as we turned onto Runway 31 for departure. That’s the B-17’s horizontal stabilizer on the right
As soon as we were climbing out of the airport traffic pattern I was UP on my feet and had two nasty surprises. One was that I had almost no sense of balance! Last January, I had fallen from my front porch after slipping on ice, and since then I’ve been recovering from significant surgery that re-connected my upper quad tendons to my kneecaps from which they had parted company as I crashed to terra (very) firma. Iw as okay, walking on the ground by this time, but even in the relatively calm air, I felt horribly unsure of my footing. There was almost nothing to hold onto in the airplane. The second surprise was the fogginess of the waist gun windows. This picture was the best I could do. I understand it costs dollars to maintain the windows, but I must say this was definitely a “surprise.”
Visibility inside was fine. Here are the World War II veteran and his son.
I half-tried to climb onto the step by the ball turret that would have taken me into the radio room, but I had second thoughts and simply tried to stabilize my sense of balance. The view from the radio room would be no better, and I absolutely, positively knew I would never successfully transit to where the photography would be PRIME — past the bomb bay and up onto the flight deck and then to the nav and bombardier stations in the nose — with my legs as shaky as a new-born colt’s. So I very slowly made my way back to my seat-belted perch in the back. Here’s a tele view of the Illinois State Fair grounds c;lose and the city’s electricity-generating power plant (smoke stacks in the distance) as we returned to the airport.
Being so far back was an education when the landing gear was extended. The noise from the hydraulic extension of the tail wheel into the breeze surprised me with the volume and duration of the process. The movement of the internal struts, a safe distance from my right shoulder also surprised me. The could have lifted an ocean liner with that power, it seemed. Another surprise was the noise that began as soon at the tail wheel touched the runway. The shimmy sound became a RACKET and a RATTLE before was slowed to taxi speed. I asked the flight crew about it, and they said it was all very normal. I even photographed the tail wheel soon after exiting. It looked perfectly normal to me. They flew the rest of the week with it, so it must have been okay.
Where I did not meet expectations standing in the air during the flight, I met expectations on the ground as I stood with some pilot friends on the tarmac side of the fence as “Sentimental” “slipped the surly bonds of” Springfield . . .
That’s the airport’s VOR apparatus in the foreground.
Sucking up the wheels. The spectators thought they had seen all there was to see, but I had a hunch they were wrong, so I encouraged my new friends to stay put with me . . . .
. . . . And I was proven correct as is evident in the final pictures here. The pilot mad a low approach to Runway 22 and eased into a left turn down Runway 13 as a final salute to the host airport. All I could say was WOOOOOW!
Sincere THANKS to the dedicated volunteers of the Mesa, Arizona Wing Commemorative Air Force for such an unforgettable visit!