ATHENS, Ga. — A Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress has launched on a new mission across the United States visiting airports and generating an interest in a warbird which helped the allies win a world war.
The B-17G is known as Aluminum Overcast, and is one of the last flight worthy B-17s still able to soar great distances. Owned by the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, this B-17 and her crew are busy today educating visitors both young and old on the importance of its missions during the Second World War.
The B-17 served as a heavy bomber during World War II, flying bombing runs over Europe against Germany and Italy and across the southern Pacific. Sporting four prop engines mounted on its 104-foot long wing span, Aluminum Overcast was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corps in May 1945.
Overcast was not entered into military action, however today it is a stirring reminder of the nearly 4,730 which were lost during war time. During a ten year period beginning in 1936, approximately 12,735 B-17s were constructed.
“It’s extremely humbling to be sitting there knowing that 22 year-olds with a couple hundred hours were flying this thing into combat,” Aluminum Overcast pilot and docent Rex Gray discussed during a recent stop in Athens-Epps Airfield in Georgia. “There’s not a flight that goes by that I don’t think about that, and I’m still impressed by what those guys did.”
Each B-17 carried a nine or ten person crew, including a pilot and co-pilot, navigator, togglier, ball turret, radio, engineer, tail gunner, and two waist gunner. As visitors travel within the aircraft’s interior, you can view the crew’s positions, study their machine guns and radio equipment as you experience a living history exhibit that you can participate in.
The EAA Aluminum Overcast‘s paint displays the colors of the 398th Bomb Group — one of several bomb groups based in England. The B-17s of the 398th flew support and bombing missions from England between May 1944 until the wars end in April 1945.
As the B-17 soars across the skies on her mission flight it burns about 200 gallons of fuel per hour. Each of its four engines holds 37 gallons of oil and 1700 gallons of fuel. During the war, many of the B-17s were fitted with auxiliary fuel tanks.
“We do a preflight on the airplane open it all up, and do all check outs to ensure its all functioning properly,” B-17 crew chief Jeff Martin for Aluminum Overcast explained as we stood beside the silver bomber. “All the flight controls are in good order, no leaks — its a radial engine and so they all leak — and walk around the aircraft to make sure there’s no damage.”
Martin is one of the team’s two crew chiefs, and he states one of them always flies with the aircraft. He noted he listens for “any hiccups in the motor”.
This B-17G served several years as an aerial mapping platform over southeast Asia during the 1950s. It was the veterans of the 398th who assisted with donations to help fund the bomber’s restoration in 1983.
“We hear people talk about ‘well I’m gonna fly on this some day’, and there’s no getting around it it is expensive — there’s no getting around it it is expensive,” Gray began. “I encourage people if they have any inclination at all to go to throw out the credit card, do what ever they have to do, and go.”
Guests can take a special flight into history as they travel aboard the B-17 Flying Fortress during its many airport visits. Advanced reservations are recommended including full details and availability, however walk-ups will be available based on limited seating.
“This airplane is 73 years-old and there’s not very many of them left, and one day EAA and other organizations will say this is too valuable to fly,” Gray added. “If you want to do it, do it now, as one day the only way you’re gonna see it is behind velvet ropes in a museum.”
Martin summed up his feelings of the storied past of the B-17 program as we stood inside the cockpit region. “It’s a privilege being apart of this, and I still get goosebumps when I think of what the fellas went through overseas,” he said. “They had a rough time of it as the aircraft flew at 25 to 30,000-feet, 40 below zero outside, and just being in the aircraft was dangerous enough let alone people shooting at you and trying to take you out of the sky.”
The Aluminum Overcast 2018 Tour continues thru November:
June 22-24 – Knoxville, TN – McGhee Tyson Airport
June 29-July 1 – Greenwood, IN – Indy South Greenwood Airport
July 3 – Valparaiso, IN – Porter County Regional Airport
July 6-8 – Romeoville, IL – Lewis University Airport
July 20-22 – Madison, WI – Dane County Regional Airport-Truax Field
July 23-29 – AirVenture – Oshkosh, WI
August 24-26 – Waukegan, IL – Waukegan National Airport
August 28 – Richmond, IN – Richmond Municipal Airport
August 31-September 3 – Cincinnati, OH – Lunken Field
September 7-9 – State College, PA – University Park Airport
September 14-16 – Ithaca, NY – Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport
September 21-23 – Rutland, VT – Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport
September 25 – Keene, NH – Dillant-Hopkins Airport
September 28-30, 2018 – Lawrence, MA – Lawrence Municipal Airport
October 5-7 – Westfield, MA – Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport
October 9 – Poughkeepsie, NY – Hudson Valley Regional Airport
October 12-14 – Lancaster, PA – Lancaster Airport
October 19-21 – Manassas, VA – Manassas Regional Airport
October 26-29 – Greenville, NC – Pitt-Greenville Airport
November 2-4 – Franklin, NC – Macon County Airport
November 6 – Rock Hill, SC – Rock Hill Airport-Bryant Field
November 9-11 – Myrtle Beach, SC – Myrtle Beach International Airport
November 16-18 – Morristown, TN – Morristown Regional Airport
(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)