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Opinion :: A rare chance to see a historical American aviation icon
· 7:59am June 6th, 2014
The elderly man leaned heavily on the arm of his nephew as he walked slowly toward the B-17.
But the closer they got to the World War II bomber, the man’s pace quickened. Finally, he reached the door with a spring and a step.
Pilot Ken Morris turned his head to invite another group of veterans to step inside the plane, and was amazed when he saw this same man scrambling up the stairs to the station he had once manned nearly 70 years earlier.
Instead of offering to help this veteran of more than 90 up the stairs, Morris joked: “Come back and help me get up there.”
Another 90-something veteran visited the Aluminum Overcast B-17, but sat on a bench outside for a long time.
The pilot invited him in, but he politely declined, and sat there a while longer.
The pilot kept watching the old veteran, to see if he would change his mind. Finally, the old man got up and walked around the plane. The next time the pilot saw him, he was sitting silently in the middle of the plane.
“Are you OK?” asked the pilot.
The veteran airman said yes, and then explained: “It was in this spot in my B-17 that a crew member died in my arms.”
Those are just two of the incredible stories that the volunteer pilots of the Experimental Aircraft Association have encountered in the two decades that they have been traveling the country in the restored bomber, offering rides and sharing history lessons.
Anything related to aviation or military history is going to get my attention; as soon as I heard about this bomber being on display at the Eastern Iowa Airport I made arrangements to be there.
I toured the B-17 with my two youngest daughters. I spoke to Ken and Lorraine Morris, the Illinois couple who take turns with other pilots at the controls, as well as pilot Rick Fernalld who travels all the way from Washington State to participate. The pilots and other EAA members volunteer their time.
They do it, they say, to honor those veterans.
And also, to share the history of the B-17.
After spending a few hours with these pilots and a half-hour sitting in the radioman’s chair as the bomber circled Cedar Rapids, I can tell you that these volunteers are experts at both. They answered every question I asked thoroughly – and those of you who know me know what kind of crazy questions fly through my mind.
Every part of the B-17 has a story, and those volunteers know those stories well. The names of the crew members on the plane tell some incredible stories. The B-17 is a tribute to Lt. Harold Weekley and his crew, as well as to all those who faced the incredible dangers of flying in bombers in WWII.
“Airmen had a 1 in 3 chance of returning from a mission,” said Ken Morris. “And they all had to fly 25 missions.”
I could write pages about how much my daughters enjoyed their tour, and how much my media colleagues loved our short flight, and I would still leave out some of the amazing things I saw and learned.
But what you need to know most is this: Whatever you plan to do this weekend, it’s almost certainly not going to be as interesting and inspiring as visiting this traveling monument to the heroes of World War II.
Today, through Sunday, from 8 .m. to 5 p.m. , the tour guides will be there to answer questions and tell the B-17’s story. From 1-5 p.m. each day, flights will be available for those interested in purchasing a ticket.
Even if you don’t get a ride in the plane, the tour and history lesson is something you will always remember.
There are only a handful of the more than 12,000 B17s ever made still flying. This is a rare opportunity to stand inside one, and see what countless airmen saw when they were fighting for freedom 70 years ago.
See our Vinton Today photo album of the B-17 HERE.
See the event page HERE
For tour and flight information, click HERE.
And they said, ‘Amen’
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