Flying in a Restored B-17
May 1, 2007 6:39 PM   Subscribe

Flying in a Restored B-17. There is an active tour with the plane the Aluminum Overcast where you can be a passenger in this plane. Here is a blog entry from a woman whose father flew a B-17 in WWII. There are other Flying Fortresses in various stages of restoration.
posted by plinth (26 comments total)
Not a flight.
A Flight Experience.
posted by Dizzy at 6:47 PM on May 1, 2007

Yep, just went and saw this very plane last week when it was at our local muni airport. It is every bit as daunting as you'd think a bomber bristling with machine guns would be.

Must say though, I found the belly turret instructions kind of funny.

Wish I could have dropped the $400 for the flight around the bay, it must have been epic!
posted by fenriq at 7:10 PM on May 1, 2007

One day, when I am insanely rich, I am going to own all sorts of vintage aircraft; a B-17, a P-40k Warhawk, a Bell UH1, a dirigible, etc.

Some eccentric old coots collect cars. That isn't nearly expensive or dangerous enough for me.

Speaking of which, anyone got a spare billion or so they could lend me? I'll put it to good use. For real.
posted by quin at 7:12 PM on May 1, 2007

"Aluminum Overcast" makes me sort of chuckle -- it's the sobriquet more typically associated with the (way, much, far) larger C-5 Galaxy cargo jet. (Compare the dimensions of the B-17 for yourself.) In fact, the first time I saw Collings Foundation's B-17 "Nine O Nine" I thought, Wow, this thing's a lot smaller than I imagined -- how the hell did ten guys, thirteen .50 cals and a bomb load fit in that fuselage?"
posted by pax digita at 7:20 PM on May 1, 2007

wow. i saw this thing flying around oakland on sunday and wondered about it. $400's a bargain... i wanted to do the Zero-G thing out of san jose, but i decided that $3500 or whatever was just too much.

there's another group coming through soon though:


looks like the same price.. $400. hmm.
posted by joeblough at 7:40 PM on May 1, 2007

"Aluminum Overcast" makes me sort of chuckle -- it's the sobriquet more typically associated with the (way, much, far) larger C-5 Galaxy cargo jet.

No, no, no, no, no.

The Aluminum Overcast was the Six Turning, Four Burning, Convair B-36, the most ungodly bomber ever to fly with the USAF. The wingspan of the B-36 wasn't exceeded until the 747 came along.

The B-36 could have carried two (crushed) B-17s in the bomb bays and still have taken off and metabombed a target 3000 miles away. The B-36, in the put the crack pipe down, dammit ill conceived FiCon experiment, actually carried a F-86 fighter.

The amazing things was that it flew. It didn't really have an oil change interval, you just kept pouring oil into the engines and leaks took care of the rest (they carried two 55 gallon drums when flying, just to keep the engines oiled.) The P&W Wasp Major engines had a trackrecord of, well, not being reliable, leading certain passenger aircraft to be referred to as the World's Leading Three Engine Airliners. The GE J47 turbojets were new, not exactly reliable, and they seemed to excel mainly at turning fuel into noise and smoke.

It was an amazing airplane. It defined amazing airplanes, mainly by people saying "That's amazing. It actually flies!"

That's the Aluminum Overcast. Accept No Substitutes.

grumble wheeze wave cane
posted by eriko at 7:45 PM on May 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

$400 for the flight is pretty steep. Still, I'd do it in a second were I allowed to sit in the gun turrets for a bit. Sadly, those areas of the plane are off limits for safety reasons.

posted by aladfar at 7:49 PM on May 1, 2007

Saw 3 (or the same one 3 times) of them Saturday in Oakland. I was out snapping pics of my son's baseball game, so I had a camera. I wouldn't have believed it otherwise. They flew very low and it was a blast seeing them.
posted by e40 at 8:12 PM on May 1, 2007

I saw the Collins Foundation's B-17, B-24 and B-25 over Buffalo last summer. 400 bucks for a ride was a little steep for me, but the $10 to be allowed a walk-through was entirely worth it. Man they must've been noisy inside.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:25 PM on May 1, 2007

"Aluminum Overcast" came from a comment made by a pilot flying a photo plane shortly after this aircraft was restored. From what I was told, he made a photo pass underneath the B-17, and was heard to comment something like "D**n, that thing looks like an aluminum overcast." And the name stuck.

I've flown in it a couple of times- it's a great experience.
posted by drhydro at 8:51 PM on May 1, 2007

Tangentially to Eriko's comment, an extremely cool photo of the B-47E as referenced in the B-36 article:

"The B-36 was arguably obsolete from the outset, because it was piston-powered in a world of jet interceptors.[6] But its jet rival, the B-47 Stratojet, which did not become fully operational until 1953, lacked sufficient range to attack the Soviet heartland from North American airbases and could not carry the huge first-generation hydrogen bomb (Neither could the other American piston bombers of the day, the B-29 Superfortress and its later revision the B-50)."

I <3 Wikipedia.
posted by ZakDaddy at 9:17 PM on May 1, 2007

Smug perhaps, but I flew the (then) "Confederate Air Force" B17 for 20 minutes en-route between Oklahoma and Dallas Love Field aged 19 when I was an intern with them back in the early '70's. It'll be etched on my memory for ever, and I feel I'm such a lucky bastard.
posted by marvin at 9:27 PM on May 1, 2007

I want to have Marvin's experience.

There is something about WW2 bombers that makes my heart do somersaults. My grandfather's brother was one of the aircrew on the Dambusters raid and although he was killed over the Ruhr a year later, he was something of a legend in the family. We still have his medals plus the invitation to his family to attend the premiere of the film. I spent my childhood assembling Airfix B-17s, Lancasters and Mosquitoes as a result. Even now the sight of the recently restored Lancaster makes something light up inside me.
posted by greycap at 11:25 PM on May 1, 2007

Zak, Erik, my dad worked on the B-47 whilst wet behind the ears outta UW engineering school.

Several years ago, one of the multi-unit restored plane troupes was at Boeing Field with a B-17 and a B-24 (I think the Collings Foundation pair). My wife and I were driving around doing errands and I'd see 'em in the distance and start gawking, kinda bummed that we weren't down at the Museum getting our knuckles craped by inner rivets and inhaling half-burnt oil at takeoff, that sort of thing.

We had just finished and decided to go walk around Gas Works for a pre-dinner stroll. We pulled into the lot and had just crested the berm that separates the parking area from the park itself when they motored grandly over at 50 feet and stalling speed, in formation. I jumped around and gawked and hooted and pointed and yelled and otherwise got in touch with my inner primate. It was wonderful.

I dashed up to the airport from work last summer to see the same planes come in, too. I might do it again this year - I have more powerful binoculars. An interesting side note on watching the planes come in was that the last time I'd looked at belly-turrets and landing gear for any length was while watching the TV series "Amazing Stories" episode about a cartoonist who saves the gunner by visualizing geaar on a wounded bird coming back to base. Realizing that the TV show had indelibly affected my ability to look at the plane while landing made me laugh.
posted by mwhybark at 11:29 PM on May 1, 2007

My Grandfather flew a B-17. his journal is online, thanks to my dad.
posted by mmoncur at 12:02 AM on May 2, 2007

Doesn't "Aluminum Overcast" refer not to the size of the aircraft, but the copious amounts of them in the skies during the height of the Allied bombing raids over Germany?

You mean those terror bombings raids on civilians?

Funny thing about warplanes. To my way of thinking, there's nothing romantic about them. I'd pay 400 bucks to take a whack at a B-17 with a hammer so I could say "That's from Kurt Vonnegut, do you want another?"
posted by three blind mice at 12:10 AM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

As a college student in Memphis in 1969, I used to ride by the old site of the Memphis Belle in front of the National Guard armory on Central Avenue every day. In those days, the Belle was notable only as the neglected roosting place of hundreds of pigeons, and she looked sad and forlorn indeed, sitting up on a couple of concrete pylons, repeatedly defaced by vandals, missing her nose bubble, and even the dignity of her own guns, or an honorable salvage to support other planes.

The same kinds of things happened again when she was on display at Mud Island, throughout the 1990's. Despite the efforts of a large group of volunteers, the Memphis Belle and other WWII vintage aircraft are financial sinkholes of the first water. They were designed to be as easy and fast to manufacture as possible, and to do tough jobs in times of war, but keeping them together now, much less airworthy, isn't anything like a business proposition.

I'm glad to see some organizations making efforts to keep a few of the old girls flying, because of those that remain in identifiable condition, fewer will be flight worthy, or repairable, with every decade that passes. But I hope that when that is no longer feasible, the last photos will be taken, and the old carcasses respectfully stored away from public view in desert boneyards, or scrapped. No plane with the history of the Belle should rot in pigeon shit.
posted by paulsc at 1:21 AM on May 2, 2007

No plane with the history of the Belle should rot in pigeon shit.

The "Belle" was one of the aircraft that participated in the bombing of Dredsen.

You guys burnt the place down, turned it into a single column of flame. More people died there in the firestorm, in that one big flame, than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined." --Kurt Vonnegut, Jr

Rotting in pigeon shit is too kind.
posted by three blind mice at 2:03 AM on May 2, 2007

I flew the (then) "Confederate Air Force" B17 for 20 minutes

I want to have Marvin's experience.

The Confederate Air Force is still around, just with a different name, if you want to get together with them.
posted by TedW at 5:21 AM on May 2, 2007

There has been a WWII airshow in Geneseo, NY for years. There was an unfortunate falling out among members of the original group and now there are two shows (each with fewer aircraft than the original). Nevertheless, it's great to see these planes still flying and a good reminder of what my father's generation went through.
posted by tommasz at 5:29 AM on May 2, 2007

Oh oh oh... I flew in one of these a few months ago. Took lots of pictures. This isn't meant as a plug, but if you want to see said pretty pictures, you can click on the website link in my profile. It was the coolest thing I've done this year.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 5:39 AM on May 2, 2007

My high school science teacher's Dad was WWII ace John Godfrey. On his Dad's birthday he'd show us the gun camera films. Pretty much the coolest thing that happened in high school.
posted by schoolgirl report at 7:24 AM on May 2, 2007

...and, following the links I see that there's a B-36 on display in Omaha, along with a bunch of other planes I'd love to see. God damn it, I need to get down there.
posted by COBRA! at 8:26 AM on May 2, 2007

The Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston Texas also has a working B-17
posted by WerewolvesRancheros at 9:19 AM on May 2, 2007

there's one in Palm Springs too. i was there last week, had a very thorough walk-thru with a docent for $3. definitely worth a stop en route between LA & Phoenix.
posted by aquanaut at 11:09 AM on May 2, 2007

greycap: My paternal grandfather was a navigator in Stirlings, and then Lancasters, and was part of the Dambusters squadron. My maternal grandfather was a tail-gunner in (I believe) Lancasters as well.

threeblindmice: I don't think everyone in here is romanticising these bombers, rather paying respect to the people who flew them in defense of what they believed and, ultimately, for us.
posted by coriolisdave at 4:04 PM on May 2, 2007

« Older Stonehenge math   |   the guinea pig underground Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments