Nick's Excellent Adventure

Sunday, April 13, 11:00 a.m., Mrs. Nichols' baby boy climbed into, and flew off in this bad boy.

 

Once again insuring that America will remain safe and free!

 

There aren't many of these old birds left.  I'm going to fly one, while the opportunity exists.  The Experimental Aircraft Association's Historical Society restored this example of the B-17 Flying Fortress, the bomber that many military historians consider the airplane that changed the tide of World War II in Europe.  Of the 12,700 built, fewer than 10 remain in flying condition today.  Most of the others were shot down during the war, and most of the survivors have since been turned into aluminum cans.  A handful of the survivors, though, have seen duty as Air/Sea Search & Rescue and Fire Fighting craft.

The cost of this big adventure?  It costs between $2,500 and $3,000 per hour to put the Flying Fortress in the air.  To cover the costs of restoring and maintaining the Aluminum Overcast, the EAA Historical Society offers rides to "crew members" who join the Society.  During the flight, crew members get to check out the view from the gun turrets and the bombardier's seat in the nose, and to take the controls and actually hand fly the plane.  In addition to the one-hour flight, each crew member gets an 8"x10" photo of himself/herself at the controls, a special flight jacket commemorating the flight, and other goodies.  
Total Cost of becoming a Crew Member - $585.00
Not exactly peanuts, for a poor college professor, but a bargain for an opportunity of a lifetime.

Post-Flight Debriefing

It was GREAT!!

It was a cold weekend!  I went out to Jones Airport (formerly, Riverside Airport) early Saturday morning to get a preview of what I could expect the next day.  I found out what the procedure was going to be, but the most important thing I learned was to bring gloves.  It was really cold.  

Sunday morning, Dolores and I stopped off on the way to the airport to pick up a couple of those throwaway cameras.  As soon as the pictures come back, I'll scan them and update this page again.

Climbing aboard the Aluminum Overcast was like stepping back in history.  The authentic paint scheme and attention to details by the folks at the Experimental Aircraft Association leaves the aircraft looking exactly like the original Aluminum Overcast, which was shot down over Germany.  An eerie feeling, indeed.

The pilot fired up the four engines, one at a time.  The plane shook and vibrated, as you might expect, with 4,800 horses straining at the reins.  After doing a runup and engine check at the end of the runway, we eased out onto the runway, he aligned the plane and hit the throttles.  WOW!!!  What a kick!  The B-17 has a tad more power than my old Ercoupe -- or anything else I have ever flown.  Our rollout was much shorter and we were off the ground much faster than I would have anticipated.  The tailwheel must have lifted off almost immediately and the thumping of the tires hitting the cracks in the runway ended just seconds later.  We were airborne!

We took off to the North, egressing the Riverside/Jones pattern to the South.  We flew down to near Okmulgee, then meandered around South and West of Tulsa.  As my fellow "airmen" took their turns at the controls, I explored the plane.  We were not allowed to go back to the tailgunner's position because, we were told, of the ease with which the doors to that compartment could fall off the plane.  We also could not go into the bellygunner's rotating turret, I assume because of the wear and tear on the mechanisms.  But the waistgunner's machine guns were fun to play with.  Unfortunately, on my first mission no enemy fighters intercepted us, so I couldn't do anything except play with the guns -- but I was ready.  The bombs in the bomb bay were racked and ready to drop on our target.  Okmulgee, Ok. will never be the same!

Climbing into the bombardier's position in the nose of the plane was a real experience.  With my fear of heights, I expected that it would be very disconcerting to be surrounded by a plexiglas bubble.  You can look straight up, straight ahead, and straight down.  It was the looking down, of course, that I thought would be the problem for me.    As it turned out, heights do not bother me as long as something -- anything, even a thin piece of clear plexiglas -- is between me and the ground.  What a feeling of vulnerability though, I thought, if an enemy fighter pilot was shooting at me or we were flying into a cloud of flak!

It was finally my turn to climb into the left seat and take over the controls.  I was the last to fly, so it fell to me to bring the Aluminum Overcast safely back home.  I'm not sure how well I impressed the EAA crew members with my somewhat rusty piloting skills -- they did not invite me to join the tour -- but no one screamed, and nobody pushed me out of the seat.  The B-17 is not all that hard to fly.  The ailerons are a bit stiff, as is the rudder, so banking and turning took some effort but not as much as I expected.  The elevators were much lighter than I had anticipated, so controlling altitude was a snap.

After landing, the Captain signed off my logbook, which now shows one hour of B-17 time as well as the 2,000+ hours I have racked up in other aircraft.  Maybe it was a mix-up at the hospital or something, but I have long suspected that I was supposed to have been born into a very wealthy family!  Then I could afford to fly the Aluminum Overcast every day, or even own one of these magnificent machines myself.  

That there are so few left flying is a shame.  The EAA is to be congratulated and thanked for keeping this piece of history in the air.  I am glad I had the opportunity to become a crew member and help the EAA keep this fine aircraft flying, and to preserve the opportunity for others.

May she fly forever, and may you get your chance someday soon!

You can contact the EAA at 1-800-843-3612 or 1-414-426-4800.  They have some great gift items, video tapes, books, etc.  You can also find out where this year's tour will take the Aluminum Overcast this year.  Perhaps it will visit an airport near you.

As an aside, there was an elderly gent in our crew.  After our flight, I discovered that he flew in a B-17 in the war. There was also a P-51 Mustang that was flown in for the show.  What a sight as it "strafed" the field when it arrived!  As far as I know, the old gent was the only one who got to go up in the P-51.  They took off right after the Aluminum Overcast took off for the last flight of the day.  He got to see what his old bird looked like from the perspective of those who helped protect him as he flew his missions 50+ years ago.  It must have been a very special day for him.