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B-24 Flight
B-17 Flight
B-25 Flight
STS-117

Wings Of Freedom

Flying in a Cadillac, the B-17

Photo Credits: Mine, Mary, and Lexie
The B-17 Liberator "Nine O Nine" taxis towards the flight line
The B-17 "Nine O Nine" taxis towards the flight line after its second flight of the day.
A closer view of the taxiing B-17
A closer view of the taxiing  Flying Fortress.  (note the motion of the propellers)
The B-17 draws a little closer
The B-17 draws closer
Closer still
Closer still
The B-17 begans turning in front of us
The B-17 begins a turn in front of us
A view of the front of the B-17
The front of the B-17
A view of the pilot and co-pilot at the top of the B-17
The pilot and co-pilot of the B-17 are visible through the cockpit windows
A view of yesterday and today
A view of yesterday and today as a commercial airliner takes off over the B-17
A view of the B-17's wing root as we board the aircraft
Looking along the wing root as we prepare to board
The flimsy rear door next to my seat
A view of the passengers seated in the tail section
The flimsy rear door near my seat
A view from the aft looking forward of our  area
The ball turret was just foreward of our seating section
The ball turret was just forward of our seating section
A view out of the port machine gun emplacement
A view of the tail section of the aircraft
A view out the port machine gun emplacement
The B-17 tail section covered by canvas
A view of the overhead flight control service cables
A view of the overhead exposed flight control service cables
In the air and banking towards port
In the air and banking towards port
A view of the B-17 in flight
A view of the B-17 in flight
It was still a very overcast morning
It was still a very overcast morning
A view of the starboard wing
A view of the starboard wing
Looking starboard aft from the machine gun emplacement
 Looking starboard aft from the machine gun emplacement
The view when I stuck my head out of the open overhead hatch
The view when I stuck my head out of the open overhead hatch
My fellow passengers take in the open hatch
Two of my fellow passengers take in the experience of the open overhead hatch
Another view of the starboard wing
Another view looking out over the starboard wing
A view of the pilot and co-pilot in the cockpit
A view of  the pilot and co-pilot in the cockpit
Cockpit Instrumentation
Cockpit controls and instrumentation
One of my favorite views from the flight
This is probably one of my favorite views from the B-17 flight
Heading back down the bomb bay catwalk
Heading back down the bomb bay catwalk
I'm standing in front of the B-17 "Nine O Nine"
I'm standing in front of the B-17 Nine O Nine
I was supposed to fly on the B-25 next or so I thought. The B-25 was gone though. I had some concern that I missed my flight. I was told that I was actually going to fly on the B-17 next and not the B-25. Additionally, they told me that I had to go back in the building and get a new sticker for my B17 flight.

Inside the building I told the check in person about my lost sticker. Thankfully he remembered me. I did not have to worry though, everybody knew who I was. I was the only one taking three flights. With a straight face, the guy looked up at me and said, well, that’s just too bad. He cracked a smile and wrote me out a new sticker He told me that the B-17 was the Cadillac of rides.

I got back out to the staging area with my new B-17 sticker. I was told to wait with the B-17 group. I was a little concerned, because I really thought I was riding the B-25 next. The people working with the staging area assured me that they would get me on a B-25 flight.

While we were waiting for the B-17 to come back, the B-25 landed. People got off from the first flight. The second flight’s passengers were told to start boarding the aircraft. One of the workers called over to me, “Hey B-25 guy, you’re supposed to fly on this one.” I walked over to the aircraft and underneath the wing then under the fuselage. As I popped my head up into the aircraft to board, the pilot told me, that I was not supposed to be on this flight. I needed to fly the next B-17 flight, so that I would not miss out on that ride.

I exited the aircraft and told the guy who directed me to it in the first place. As I did so, another volunteer with the Collings foundation came over and reaffirmed that I had to fly the B-17 next. Needless to say there was a lot of confusion on the part of the workers. I tried not to get too concerned; I figured things would work out some how. I walked back over to the fence with a sheepish grin. I told Mary that I had been thrown off the flight. Actually I told her about the confusion. I then resumed my wait with the B-17 flight 3 group. There were ten of us waiting for this flight.

While we waited near the fence, we received our pre-flight briefing for the B-17. The instructions were similar to the ones for the B-24. We were again told that if we fell out of the plane, the Collings Foundation would deny every having us on board that flight. 

One thing that we were told to avoid doing was grabbing on to the overhead cables that ran the length of the aircraft. These steel cables were the mechanical flight control cables and they were fully exposed. The person briefing us said that the pilots would not be happy with us if we grabbed their control cables. I imagined that it would take a concentrated effort to avoid the cables in flight. The natural tendency when balancing on an unstable platform is to grab for something overhead.

Also this time there would be no bell to signal when we could un-strap. On this flight that would be dealt with by hand signals from the flight engineer. We were told that there was an open section in the top of the aircraft. We would be able to stick our head out in the 165 MPH slip stream. We also warned that we should take our hats and glasses off before doing so. That seemed like prudent information.

The B-25 Mitchell departed and the B-17 Flying Fortress came in. Shortly after it reached the flight line, we were marched out to the area by the B-17. The passengers from the second flight of the B-17 were just started to deplane.

Our group started to board. I wound up being the last passenger on the aircraft. As the last passenger I was seated in the very back of the aircraft just in front of the rear door. On the B-17 we had padded seats. Well, the seats still were on the floor but there was padding for your backside and back. The seats were perpendicular to the length of the aircraft. Our seating arrangement made me think of parachute jumpers waiting for deployment.

There were cutouts in the side of the aircraft again for side facing machine guns. The cutouts had similar dimensions to the cutouts on the B-24. This time however there was clear Plexiglas placed over the cutouts with just a small penetration by the machine guns.

I strapped into to my seat. I was by now a veteran of this type of seat harness and had no issues figuring out how to make it work. As I sat on the cushion on the floor I noticed that my feet stretched all the way to the other side of the aircraft. That is a tell tale sign of the diameter of the aircraft at this point.

I also noted the metal framework of the aircraft. For a vehicle of this size the structure seemed remarkably light if not a little bit fragile. It is no wonder that flack and enemy bullets would rip through these flying workhorses like a hot knife through warm butter. It made me realize, just how vulnerable these brave air crews were during World War II.

Also as I sat there I noted a small hole below me in the fuselage. I could not tell if it was supposed to be a drain hole or if it was just a hole from corrosion. I don’t think it was a drain hole. I was glad that this was the only hole that I saw under my seating area. Visions of falling out of the bottom of an airplane started to return.

We began to taxi down to the start of the runway. In the back of the aircraft where I was, it was pretty quiet compared with the B-24. It was also fairly smooth back here. I watched as the shock absorber on the tail landing gear did its job to absorb any bumps on the runway. The landing gear section itself was covered with a canvas cover. This cover also prevented any access to the B-17’s tail cone.

Before long we were in the air. I did not note any violence in the sound of the full throttled aircraft as I did with the B-24. This did not seem a whole lot different than taking off in a commercial propeller driven aircraft.

The signal was given that it was Okay to un-strap. I un-strapped and was very careful how I got up. Being so close to the rear door made me a little nervous. The appearance of the door did not lead me to have a whole lot of faith in its strength. It looked very fragile. I certainly did not want to stumble and fall through the door.

I looked out of the machine gun emplacements covered with Plexiglas. It made me miss the open freedom of the B-24 emplacements. The view was nice. I paused to look out of both sides and snap some photos. When I could squeeze by my fellow passengers, I made my way towards the front of the aircraft. I liked the view out over the wings. They looked so majestic. It was marvelous to see the propellers being driving by the pair of engines on each side.

Just past the radio room was the overhead hatch that was open to the sky. There was a little wind noise in here, but it was not bad. I took my hat and glasses off. I stood up with my head in the slipstream. I was amazing to be able to look back upon the tail of the aircraft and see it without having to look through a window. I was awestruck by this experience. It was like barn storming in a B-17. Wow! I snapped a couple of photos with my camera.

I could have stayed there longer, but moved out so that other passengers could enjoy the experience. I put my eyeglasses and hat back on. I looked out over the wings some more and marveled some more at the engines. I took a couple of more photos and moved on to the section just behind the cockpit. I got a couple of photos of the pilot and co-pilot.

I waited until the nose section was clear and crawled beneath the cockpit to get into the nose.

The tunnel section here was fairly well illuminated. People that have trouble with confined spaces would probably have a better time getting to the B-17 nose than they would with getting to the nose of the B-24.

The flight engineer was sitting in the nose section. As I squatted there hunched over, he indicated that I could sit in the bombardier’s seat. It was an interesting vantage point perched out in front of the airplane and surrounded by Plexiglas. The only thing detracting from this view was the Plexiglas. It looked fairly pitted or perhaps even bug smeared. That really took away from the view.

Then I had some difficulty with my Nikon D70s camera. When I pressed the shutter release, nothing happened. That was strange but I encountered quirky behavior with this camera a month before. I wondered if the camera was having difficulty in focusing with all of the Plexiglas. I wondered if somehow, the camera got into the wrong setup mode. I tried everything that I could think of in order to fix the camera including resetting the menu. Nothing worked. Finally I gave up. I exited the nose section, in case any of my fellow passengers had not experienced it yet. I stopped briefly in the section behind the cockpit and tried to take some photos. The camera still would not cooperate.

I made my way to the back of the aircraft near the machine gun emplacements. I fiddled with the camera some more. There was no joy. I finally gave up on resurrecting the camera on this flight. I was very disappointed in the camera. It was less than a year old. I did take some solace in the fact that I knew that I had got some decent shots before it failed. I enjoyed the view out of the Plexiglas covered machine gun emplacements. Other than overlooking the tail in the open air, this was the best view on the aircraft.

I could tell that we were getting near Love Field. We were passing over Southern Methodist University. It would not be long before we would be given the signal to strap in. As expected the signal came and everyone took their places and strapped in. I was pleased to see that people on both of these flights were conscientious and followed directions very well. There was not much if any supervision on these flights so it was up to everyone to be on their best behavior.

There was a slight jar and I could tell that the main wheels had touched down. The rear wheel remained suspended in the air as we trundled down the runway. Slowly and gently the tail of the plane came down. The rear wheel contacted the runway. There was a screech of rubber. Wind started blowing around the bottom of the canvas that covered the landing gear.

We taxied over to the flight line and were signaled to un-strap. It was a great flight. In many ways it was much more gentile than the B-24 was. This was the Cadillac. I looked out of the aircraft window and noticed the B-24 and B-25 were parked on the tarmac. They looked like they were in place for static display. I was now concerned that the B-25 was not going to go up again this morning and that I had missed my chance to fly it.

The adventure continues with my flight on the B-25.  For the account of this  day follow the B-25 Flight link.

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UPDATED : June 11, 2008
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