Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fortress of the Sky

Earlier this month, I had the unique opportunity to explore one of the few remaining B-17 Bomber Flying Fortresses remaining. As part of a cross-country tour, this particular plane named "Sentimental Journey" landed at the Morgantown Airport. Of the 60 or so planes remaining, only about a dozen can still fly.

At noon exactly, we saw the shiny aluminum-plated aircraft approach the airfield.

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A video of the B-17 landing at the Morgantown Airport.

Several World War Two veterans were present, many of whom had flown B-17 themselves nearly seventy years ago. One aged vet told me this was his last time to fly and after that, he could have died happy.

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One such veteran was "Uncle Bob" Hayhurst, a colorful local citizen of Morgantown who flew a B-24 in the 484th Bomber Group during World War II. Bob was more than happy to share a few minutes of his time to tell his story.

We adjourned indoors for the second part of our video. Here, Bob described the Ploiesti Raid in which he lost many of his men. (Video not uploading correctly. Will post when corrected. Thanks.)

An aerial view of the Ploiești Raid in which Mr. Hayhurst took part. Note the flak smoke dotting the sky.

I also had the opportunity to explore the interior of the B-17. Here is a view bow hatch looking into the nose of the aircraft. This is where the bombardier would have eyed the target and dropped the payload of high explosives.

A view looking down the fuselage toward the rear portion of the plane.

The bomb bay doors with the payload.

The communications area for the radioman on board.

WVU roommate Joe Phillips poses with the 50. caliber machine guns. Such weaponry would have been used to fend off incoming German aircraft.

I chose a more theatrical pose...

A view of the ball turret in which a crew member would have descended to fire on enemy planes approaching from the underbelly of the airplane.

A view of the ball turret from the exterior. The ball turret gunner of the famed aircraft "Memphis Belle," Staff Sgt. Cecil H. Scott, was from my hometown of Altoona, PA.

The two .50 caliber stern guns of the B-17 were a prime target for enemy aircraft.

Side view of the plane.

The top turret behind the cockpit.

The painted bombs above the logo indicate how many missions the plane has been on. The woman in the blue bathing suit is actress Betty Grable.

One can obviously see why these were called "Flying Fortresses" due to the number of heavy machine guns on board. Nevertheless, casualty rates were extremely high for crew members on such bombers. This earned them the name "Flying Coffins."

People of all ages came out to see the plane.

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The engines warm up and the plane begins to move toward the runway.

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Takeoff!

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