Taking a ride on the wings of history
When I first learned that I’d been invited to take a flight in the renowned “flying fortress” of World War II, a B-17 bomber nicknamed Sentimental Journey, I jumped at the chance. I’d not only get to experience a piece of history but be able to join other media types and Chandler City Council members who got the same invitation.
I’ve flown in commercial airline planes before, of course, as well as small, single-propeller planes but, compared to those flights, this one flew like a war tank bouncing through bunkers.
The monstrous warplane made unexpected shakes and drops throughout the entire 30-minute journey from Falcon Field in Mesa to Chandler Municipal Airport, where it was to remain for the coming Airdayz celebration that ran in mid-April.
There, historic airplanes, courtesy the Commemorative Air Force, were on display, giving the crowd first-hand views of some of the warplanes that helped shape our nation’s aviation history.
The B-17 was used by what was then known as the U.S. Army Air Force to provide a means for heavy bombing against German military targets, reportedly dropping more bombs than any other U.S. military aircraft during the war.
With eight machine guns propped out of the windows, I could see why she was known for taking heavy fire while still being able to complete her missions successfully.
I found myself strapped in, camera in hand, to a small fold-up seat adjacent to where the navigator would have resided while flying into combat. A radio with old-fashioned tuning knobs sat on a small desk in front, reminding me of images I’d seen in filmed documentaries in my Corona del Sol history classes while I was a student there in 2005.
Adrenaline rushed as all four propeller engines kicked on before entering the runway.
Before the flight, the loading officer assured us that we’d have nothing to worry about, though I still noticed an anxious sense of excitement as the power of the Flying Fortress’ multiple engines lifted us off the ground.
After feeling the aircraft become airborne from the runway, I waited for the loading official’s sign to tell us we could get up and start taking pictures. I quickly found myself shuffling down the plane’s main passenger- and bomb-holding area to snap shots through windows and of Chandler councilmen Kevin Hartke and Jack Sellers on board.
I never thought I would have an opportunity walk around military aircraft with so much history while in flight over my home town, watching rush-hour traffic through the machinegun-wielding windows.
Steel wires jerked back and forth overhead on either side of the metal ceiling in response to the pilot’s maneuvering of the plane’s rudders. The loading manager instructed me to not touch these wires, which would obstruct the pilot’s ability to turn.
That admonition brought to mind how WWII pilots must have struggled to keep the flying boat stable while brave soldiers being fired on were scrambling to hold on to anything they could find in reach in order to avoid injury.
I was working my way toward my seat as the loading officials gave me the sign we were heading down to land. Strapping myself in, I looked around to get a few more pictures of Hartke and Sellers.
Our journey was a short yet successful flight aboard the historic military plane.
As we landed at Chandler’s Municipal Airport, the tires hit the cement with a screeching skid. Chandler residents welcomed our arrival, snapping pictures of us and the huge bomber.
All of us, in addition to Channel 3 affiliates filming in the nose area, left the plane with our faces brimming with smiles and memories that no doubt will continue to remind us of those heroic men and women who devoted, and continue to devote, their lives to protecting our country.
Editor’s note: With warbird rides and other crowd-pleasing treats on the schedule for Chandler Airport Dayz April 14-15, staff writer Crudup recalls his adventures during a run-up to last year’s event of the same name.