A Photo Essay by Jan Savage, Daren Savage and Dan Savage
"You wanna fly on the B-17? Be here by
11:30am, no later." That was good enough
for us. We all planned to converge on John
Wayne Airport in Orange County, California
a little early, just in case. After meeting
up, we all agree the first thing to do was
to get signed up for the flight. We
learned there were four 30 minute flights
scheduled for the B-17 Flying Fortress and
the B-24 Liberator each.
us! We were "stickered" for B-17
#1. First Flight! While
waiting to be called for our flight, we wandered
from the highly polished B-25 Mitchell to
the Tiger Moth and back to the B-24. While
admiring the Liberator, we struck up a conversation
with the pilot of the original "The Dragon
and his Tail". He recounted some of his
memories of the 287 low level missions he
flew over the Pacific during WWII disrupting
the Japanese supply lines between the islands.
He and his crew dropped everything from "skip
bombs" to torpedos.
a short period of sightseeing, it was time
to climb aboard "Nine O Nine"
prior to the engine start up. We were gathered
up along with our other lucky adventurers
by our Crew Chief for a basic safety course
(to go along with the FAA waiver we signed).
The Chief began by letting us know there
weren't any seats aboard and this wasn't
a normal passenger aircraft (Thanks!).
continued by also informing us we would
be sitting on the floor, but back cushions
and lap belts were thoughtfully provided.
In order to provide us with the maximum
B-17 experience, the Chief told us we would
be free to unbuckle our seat belts and wander
(crawl?) about the cabin as soon as we took
off and the gear came up. We were also cautioned
not to lean against the doors. He explained
that these doors were designed for easy
exit when the aircraft was going down in
flames and the exit would be just as easy
now as it was then.
waiting during the engine starting sequence
and warm up, I found myself looking at the
bombs in the bomb bay, imagining the hapless
gunner being ordered to free a stuck 500
pounder while perched on the narrow catwalk
with nothing but a rope and a few inches
of aluminum between him, the open bomb bay
doors and 15,000 feet of free fall.
are eight of us on board. Dan and one other lucky
fellow sitting behind the cockpit just below the
top turret, I was in the radioman's compartment
with another excited enthusiast, and Jan and his
fellow passengers in the main cabin in front of
the waist gunner's position.
upper hatch above us in the radioman's compartment
was left open with the hatch safely stowed on
board, providing a unsurpassed 360 degree view
in flight. We were cautioned that anything caught
out in the 160 mph slipstream; hat, sunglasses,
camera, that wasn't firmly attached, was gone!
took off and headed north for a nice cruise up
the coast. Pictured in the bombardier's seat are
JMRC members Jan Savage, Dan Savage and Daren
bombardiers who flew the B-17s must have enjoyed
one of the best views in all of aviation. The
view from the bombardier's seat is simply spectacular!
To sit behind the Norden bombsight imagining myself
to be one of those intrepid flyers of yesteryear,
zeroing in on my target with only a thin sheet
of Plexiglas between myself and disaster, left
imagined myself a bombardier... Check the bombsight,
appears to still functioning. Check the ocean,
"Whoa, long way down!" Looking out over
my right shoulder I see Seal Beach, over my left,
10 minutes after take off, we suddenly bank to
the right and head inland. Through the nose blister
I spot our target. This reminds me of a bit from
an old wartime Bugs Bunny cartoon, "Pilot
to Bombardier, Pilot to Bombardier, target at
twelve o'clock low, do you see it?" Then
Bugs' reply, "Bombardier to Pilot, I see
it. Take us in!"
bank, this time to the left, then a right, which
begins a steady right hand circle around the Queen
around the Queen Mary, I can only imagine what
the people below were thinking. I wonder if seeing
a 60 year old warplane flying over a 70 year old
passenger liner helped to make their experience
any more memorable. It certainly did mine.
the flight back we
help keep an old B-17 tradition alive by taking
part in the egg drop on the surfers at Huntington
Beach. They let us know how close we were, flashing
the surfer's universal sign of congratulations,
which we returned by shaking our fists out the
can only begin to learn during a short 30 minute
flight what it must have been like for the crewmen
flying these aircraft into war mission after mission.
It's tight inside but not cramped. It is a young
man's airplane. The average age of the crew during
war time was 21 years old. We were free to move
around, but the Fortress' original crew wasn't.
For them it would be a long, cold, loud ride with
people doing their best to shoot them out of the
is controversy between the former crews of the B-17
and the B-24 as to which is the better heavy bomber.
Thanks to the many volunteers who make up organizations
like the Collings Foundation and the Confederate
Air Force, we have original flying examples of each
bomber to make sure the argument stays alive for
many years to come.
on thumbnail above to take a cruise around the
will need the RealPlayer viewer to watch this video.
this video shot while
Flying the Fortress.
the Plug-in here.
For more information
about the B-17 and B-24 be sure and stop by the
Collings Foundation website at: www.collingsfoundation.org
(We highly recommend reading the Smithsonian
Institute article about "Bomberville
and it's Supplemental."