Touring a Restored B17 Bomber

My stepfather loves aircraft, so when I learned that a fully restored B17 would be landing at Essex airport, we spent the afternoon visiting and touring this living relic.

b17 wingspan

The Aluminum Overcast is one of a dozen remaining B17 bombers. It never flew in World War 2, it was built in 1945 and scrapped for $750 after the war. It was restored later, and is now toured by the Expeditionary Aircraft Association. A tour is ten bucks. A flight… well, that’s $475. A little steep for the both of us, especially since they want a full plane before taking off. They regaled us with a story of a rich woman who paid for a full flight for strangers just so she could go up, but none of us had five grand to spare.

b17 nose art

The B17 isn’t as enormous as you might think; it’s very tight in there, especially getting through the bomb bays. I made it through twice, to the plane crew’s amusement! I’ve got the beer belly but I am a grappler. I’m used to tight squeezes and flexing into contorted shapes, like crabwalking beneath the fuselage to get photos of the ball turret.

B17 squeeze

My friend Peter joined us later, that’s him in the bomb bay. He’s a 30 waist or something. A human javelin. I was more at home manning the sidemounted M2 .50 caliber machine guns. They only had a minute’s worth of ammo, to reduce weight. I easily weigh twice as much as two of the crew members would. These were small, young guys.

tommy b17 me 50 cal

Here’s the rest of the photos, including the dual .50’s on the tail gun pod, and some closeups of the propellers, and the infamous ball turret where if the hydraulic systems were down, the unlucky gunner was unlikely to be able to get out, and became the landing gear.

b17 ball turret

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2 thoughts on “Touring a Restored B17 Bomber

  1. This really brought back memories, Tom! I’ve been in a B-17 several times. My father flew ’em for the 8th Army Air Corps in England. He was the individual selected to first test-sight the new Norden bombsight on Padre Island in Texas and then took it to England to train the other pilots/bombadiers. Although Padre Island is a tourist destination now, during the war it was just a hunk of sand used for test-bombing runs. About 20 years ago, there was an airshow at the Ft. Wayne airport and they had a B-17 with some of the original crew. I mentioned my dad’s name and they all knew who he was–made me feel great. A few years ago, they had a reunion of the 8th Air Corps pilots and crew in Florida and contacted my mother. My father had passed away, but they paid for her to come down and participate. He could have been rotated back several times, but like most of his buddies he chose to stay and keep flying. Ended up flying 38 missions. The Norden bombsight was widely credited with helping end the war quicker as it was so superior in accuracy than what they had before. The B-17 was a great ship. Thanks for sharing. (I was born in ’43 when he was overseas in England)

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