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Flying in the B-17

Aluminum Overcast

By Alex Panzera, EAA 1040609, for Experimenter

Alex by the B-17

On Thursday, April 14, I went to Southern California with my grandpa, the editor of this newsletter. He was invited to fly in the EAA’s B-17, Aluminum Overcast, at the Van Nuys Airport with some others in the media. When we arrived at the airport, I had no clue what I was about to see. Then I saw the behemoth of an airplane. It had 13 guns, 4 engines, and 10 open seats – she was a beautiful machine. The tires were huge! A little smaller than me, and I’m over 4 feet tall.


The propellers were massive! Way larger than the tires. The engines were so large that I wondered how long it took to make each one. Three additional seats were used for the pilot, the copilot, and the person who gave us a briefing and made sure everyone was safe on board, so I guess there were 13 seats all together.


We were expecting that my grandpa would go up without me, and I was cool with that – seeing the plane was enough of a thrill for me. But I got lucky; there was a cancellation and I got a seat on the plane with my papa! We sat in the radio room. I sat at the radio itself and imagined being in that seat in World War II. It was a scary thought sitting in that plane and getting shot at by the enemy. There was a window next to me that I really couldn’t see out, and even when I left my seat to get a better look out, all I could see was the top of a massive wing and two of the four engines with the turning props.

It was the most amazing experience of my young life. I couldn’t believe how loud it was and how powerful the engines seemed. When the engines started up, all sorts of smoke and junk lying on the ground came rushing into the plane through the open hatch. It seemed like it took forever to taxi to the runway and finally take off, but finally it was our turn. Once we leveled off – and we weren’t very high – we got to move around the plane, so me and my papa and me went straight into the cockpit area. In order to get there, we had to walk across a narrow catwalk (maybe 6 inches wide) with bombs on either side of us (I hope they were fake), and we were warned during the preflight briefing that if we fell, we might bust the bomb doors and fall out of the plane. But we didn’t.


My papa asked me if I wanted to go into the nose with him, but I was a little afraid to go while in flight. I was worried about the turbulence, but once we got on the ground, I was fine and glad to crawl down in there. The nose was more spacious than I had imagined, because I could stand up without hitting my head. I now wish I would have gone forward while in flight. I would have sat in that little chair the whole time!


Also, while we were still in the radio room, there was an open overhead hatch, so all the air came in through the hatch and blew on our faces. The airplane was all gnarly inside with ribs and bulkheads and stringers and stuff. I hit my head a few times on some of it and also fell a few times from the turbulence. But all of this was part of the experience that I had never even dreamed of. The flight was so amazing, that when we landed, my grandpa and I didn’t get off for a while; we were the last ones on for a long time after everyone left. We spent a lot of time in the nose where my papa told me all about the Norden bombsight. Then we went into the cockpit where I got to sit in the pilot’s seat. My papa sat there, too, after I got up.


This was the best flight of my life and the most awesome plane I’ve ever seen or been in. I hope I can go up again soon and maybe one day actually get to be the pilot or copilot.

Since I had to miss school to go on this trip with my papa, and since the time I was in the air was the exact time I should have been doing history, here’s a little history on the plane. The B-17 was purchased from the military as surplus in 1946 for a mere $750. It has flown over a million miles and has served as a cargo hauler and an aerial mapping platform, as well as used in pest control and forest dusting. The airplane returned to the military in 1978 when it was purchased by a group of investors who wished to preserve the heritage of the B-17. The group B-17s Around the World had a goal to return this aircraft to its former glory. Members ended up donating it to the EAA which sells rides in it to keep it flying and to be able to afford the upkeep.

If you ever get a chance to fly in this B-17, do it! It’s way better than Disneyland!

I really want to thank the cool people at EAA who were awesome enough to let me fill the empty seat, and I didn’t even have to ask! They just knew I would love it and I did!



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