Hello, all. This is Mark, your guest blogger, reporting in for duty. I have been recruited to do this post due to my proximity to the event (I was there) and my interest in the subject (war history and the machines involved therein).
Niceties aside, it all started one fateful afternoon. The kids and I were outside in the front yard enjoying a cool snap when all of a sudden I heard the throaty roar of a piston engine in the sky. Now, you need to know that when the wind is right, air traffic into our local airport comes basically right over our house. So I look up and see a large, 4-engine propeller-driven plane flying over us heading out of the area. After a few moments, it hits me - that looks like a B-17 Flying Fortress!! But that's nearly impossible - there are only a few that are airworthy and why would there be one flying over my house? So I chalked it up to my imagination and wishful thinking......until the next morning when I hear on the local radio station that, indeed, a B-17 will be in town giving rides! A few calls and website views later, we found out that the plane would be back in town Saturday giving rides (@ $450/person!) and then available for viewing as a static display that afternoon. Thus the plan-making commenced. It turned out that I was able to take a stowaway (James) along.
But even before the big day, I got another unexpected treat. Friday afternoon was another cool day, with lots of low clouds. We were outside again and I heard that familiar throaty roar of piston engines. Looking up, I saw what was definitely the distinctive outline of a B-17 flying under the clouds directly overhead. The picture below does not do justice to how low the plane was flying.
Saturday arrived and we made it to the airport in time to see the Flying Fortress land. After turning off the main runway, it taxied over to the crowd standing outside the terminal. The pilot came so close that the wing actually swung over the first couple of rows of people standing behind the barrier.
After turning off the engines and re-arranging the barricade to include the plane, the folks in charge put up a ladder to the side of the plane and people started lining up to go inside.
Here is the nose of the plane, showing it's distinctive nose art and combat record. This is the actual airplane that represented the Memphis Belle in the movie of the same name. The actual Memphis Belle plane is in bad shape and last reported to be in storage. This airframe was built in 1944 but only saw service around the States as a transport and was used until the 50's. 25 bombs indicate 25 successful sorties. The other symbols above the bombs indicate when that plane was either a group or section leader, meaning there may be hundreds of other planes following it.
For scale, notice the adult standing under the engine nacelle. One leg of the propeller is nearly as tall as me, and the tires are about 4 feet tall.
The device inside the clear plexiglass is the famous Norden bombsight. It is a very sophisticated piece of equipment that was a super-secret during the war. It allowed the bombardier to place the target in the crosshairs, then he would actually have control of the aircraft the last few moments before the bombs dropped so that everything lined up correctly and the bombs would fall to their target. Abbie's grandfather was a bombardier on a different type of airplane during the Second World War and would have used this device.
We finally made it inside the plane after perusing the outside and waiting in line for about 30 minutes. They view below is the perspective the pilot and co-pilot would have enjoyed for 8-10 hours as they flew into and out of Germany.
This is the converted bomb bay. Jump seats accommodate passengers. I think the yellow canister is a fire suppression system. You can see the top of the ball turret in the bottom of the picture.
Josiah practiced with one of the waist guns. These guys stood in the window and shot at German fighters as they attacked the formation.
This is the long, lonely corridor back to the rear guns.
And now from the outside. The tiny window above the guns was about the only view the tail gunner had, and the guns themselves only had limited swivel capacity.
Here's the crew, posing outside one of the waist gunner positions.
This was truly a neat experience. It really brought to mind the bravery and sacrifice of those who flew and fought in these planes, defending freedom. Just one of these magnificent ships was loud and impressive enough - I can only begin to imagine what hundreds of them leaving a British airfield would be like, or seeing up to a thousand of them go overhead to a bombing run.