Flying in one of the most iconic airplanes from World War II, the B-17 Bomber “Sentimental Journey,” has been described as “touching history.”
“I describe the experience as being visceral as well,” said Mike Meuller, Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum ride program manager. “These airplanes are loud, they shake and there’s smoke coming out of the engines — which is normal — and it’s a hell of a lot of fun, too.”
Nicknamed the Flying Fortress, the B-17 was a strategic weapon in WWII because of its ability to suffer extensive battle damage and still return home.
The B-17 “Sentimental Journey” is one of only eight B-17s in the world still flying. Of nearly 13,000 produced from 1936 to 1945, 8,000 were lost in combat.
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience for some people,” Meuller said. “We go to places that don’t see a lot of these kinds of aircraft. To be able to crawl through — it’s a combination of walking and crawling through — you can get a sense of what it looked like and what it felt like and the thing I hear people say most often is ‘I didn’t realize it is so small.’ ”
The bomber and crew touch down Tuesday, Sept. 4 and stay through Sunday, Sept. 9, at the northwest general aviation ramp near Signature Flight Support at the airport, said Joey O’Rourke, Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport assistant director.
The public will have the opportunity to climb aboard the B-17 Bomber to learn and experience the stories of courage and service of its crews during one of the most important periods in U.S. history.
“We’re so enthralled with the (Commemorative Air Force Museum) coming in as part of their Summer Flying Legends of Victory Tour,” O’Rourke said. “We love the community to come out to the airport and enjoy the aircraft and we’re happy to have a place to display the aircraft for the community and all aviation lovers. It’s an opportunity for people to see vintage WWII aircraft and possibly take a flight. And how cool is it to get up close and personal with a piece of history?”
The history is what makes a tour or flight on the aircraft so special, Mueller said.
“It’s experiencing in some very small way what the men that flew these in combat experienced,” Mueller said. “We tell our passengers they’re going to be flying in this aircraft for 20 minutes at 1,000 feet above the ground in nice ambient temperatures. On the B17 in WWII, these guys flew eight-hour missions at 26,000 feet at minus-30 degrees — there’s no heat in the airplane, it’s not pressurized and oh, by the way, people were shooting at them.”
Sentimental Journey was originally manufactured and delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces for war service in 1944 where she flew missions in the Pacific Theater. After the war, the aircraft was flown for training, testing and at-sea rescue missions but eventually was sold for surplus and used as a fire bomber. In 1978, Sentimental Journey was purchased by a CAF member and donated to the newly formed Arizona CAF unit, where the aircraft was restored and is operated by all-volunteer Arizona CAF membership crews.
“They’re complex airplanes to fly,” Mueller said. “Most of our pilots are airline pilots who do this as an avocation. It’s an incredibly complex aircraft to fly but the pilots really enjoy doing it and they make a financial obligation to the aircraft as we all do, as crew members. The aircraft are meticulously and lovingly maintained.”
The organization’s mission is to preserve aircraft particularly of the WWII era, to educate people by flying the aircraft and providing rides, and to honor the veterans who flew, built and maintained the aircraft through WWII.
“I would like most people to take away respect for the people who served on these aircraft,” Mueller said. “That’s what is really important to us, to help people realize the sacrifices that they made and the kinds of things that they went through to preserve our freedom during WWII.”
Tour hours are 2 to 6 p.m. Sept. 4, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 5-6 and 2 to 6 p.m. Sept. 7-9.
Rides are available from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Friday through Sunday and require reservations made online at http://bit.ly/FLOVTBullheadCityAZ.
Tours are $10 per person and $20 for a family of four. Flight seats are $425 per waist compartment seats and $850 for bombardier/navigator seats in the nose and are limited to eight passengers per flight.
“Every dollar we take in is used for these aircraft and to maintain them,” Mueller said. “They’re very expensive aircraft to maintain and fly and you don’t go down to B-17s-R-Us and buy parts for it. A lot of people don’t want or can’t afford the flight, it’s not cheap, but please come out and see the aircraft, take pictures and take a tour. Ask questions of the crew who are there to answer questions.”