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A Photo Essay by Jan Savage, Daren Savage and Dan Savage

"You wanna fly on the B-17? Be here by 11:30am, no later." That was good enough for us. We all planned to converge on John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California a little early, just in case. After meeting up, we all agree the first thing to do was to get signed up for the flight. We learned there were four 30 minute flights scheduled for the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator each.

Lucky us! We were "stickered" for B-17 #1. First Flight! While waiting to be called for our flight, we wandered from the highly polished B-25 Mitchell to the Tiger Moth and back to the B-24. While admiring the Liberator, we struck up a conversation with the pilot of the original "The Dragon and his Tail". He recounted some of his memories of the 287 low level missions he flew over the Pacific during WWII disrupting the Japanese supply lines between the islands. He and his crew dropped everything from "skip bombs" to torpedos.

After a short period of sightseeing, it was time to climb aboard "Nine O Nine" prior to the engine start up. We were gathered up along with our other lucky adventurers by our Crew Chief for a basic safety course (to go along with the FAA waiver we signed). The Chief began by letting us know there weren't any seats aboard and this wasn't a normal passenger aircraft (Thanks!).

He continued by also informing us we would be sitting on the floor, but back cushions and lap belts were thoughtfully provided. In order to provide us with the maximum B-17 experience, the Chief told us we would be free to unbuckle our seat belts and wander (crawl?) about the cabin as soon as we took off and the gear came up. We were also cautioned not to lean against the doors. He explained that these doors were designed for easy exit when the aircraft was going down in flames and the exit would be just as easy now as it was then.

While waiting during the engine starting sequence and warm up, I found myself looking at the bombs in the bomb bay, imagining the hapless gunner being ordered to free a stuck 500 pounder while perched on the narrow catwalk with nothing but a rope and a few inches of aluminum between him, the open bomb bay doors and 15,000 feet of free fall.

There are eight of us on board. Dan and one other lucky fellow sitting behind the cockpit just below the top turret, I was in the radioman's compartment with another excited enthusiast, and Jan and his fellow passengers in the main cabin in front of the waist gunner's position.

The upper hatch above us in the radioman's compartment was left open with the hatch safely stowed on board, providing a unsurpassed 360 degree view in flight. We were cautioned that anything caught out in the 160 mph slipstream; hat, sunglasses, camera, that wasn't firmly attached, was gone! We took off and headed north for a nice cruise up the coast. Pictured in the bombardier's seat are JMRC members Jan Savage, Dan Savage and Daren Savage respectively.

The bombardiers who flew the B-17s must have enjoyed one of the best views in all of aviation. The view from the bombardier's seat is simply spectacular! To sit behind the Norden bombsight imagining myself to be one of those intrepid flyers of yesteryear, zeroing in on my target with only a thin sheet of Plexiglas between myself and disaster, left me awestruck.

I imagined myself a bombardier... Check the bombsight, appears to still functioning. Check the ocean, "Whoa, long way down!" Looking out over my right shoulder I see Seal Beach, over my left, Santa Catalina.

About 10 minutes after take off, we suddenly bank to the right and head inland. Through the nose blister I spot our target. This reminds me of a bit from an old wartime Bugs Bunny cartoon, "Pilot to Bombardier, Pilot to Bombardier, target at twelve o'clock low, do you see it?" Then Bugs' reply, "Bombardier to Pilot, I see it. Take us in!"

Another bank, this time to the left, then a right, which begins a steady right hand circle around the Queen Mary.

Flying around the Queen Mary, I can only imagine what the people below were thinking. I wonder if seeing a 60 year old warplane flying over a 70 year old passenger liner helped to make their experience any more memorable. It certainly did mine.

On the flight back we help keep an old B-17 tradition alive by taking part in the egg drop on the surfers at Huntington Beach. They let us know how close we were, flashing the surfer's universal sign of congratulations, which we returned by shaking our fists out the windows.

You can only begin to learn during a short 30 minute flight what it must have been like for the crewmen flying these aircraft into war mission after mission. It's tight inside but not cramped. It is a young man's airplane. The average age of the crew during war time was 21 years old. We were free to move around, but the Fortress' original crew wasn't. For them it would be a long, cold, loud ride with people doing their best to shoot them out of the sky.
There is controversy between the former crews of the B-17 and the B-24 as to which is the better heavy bomber. Thanks to the many volunteers who make up organizations like the Collings Foundation and the Confederate Air Force, we have original flying examples of each bomber to make sure the argument stays alive for many years to come.

Click on thumbnail above to take a cruise around the Queen Mary.
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View this video shot while
Flying the Fortress.
(1988K)
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For more information about the B-17 and B-24 be sure and stop by the
Collings Foundation
website at: www.collingsfoundation.org
(We highly recommend reading the Smithsonian Institute article about "Bomberville and it's Supplemental."
)

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