Aluminum Overcast Visits Squadron 4 in Illinois
By Art Sereque, EAA 342148, Warbird 548852
EAA Warbirds Squadron 4 has a lot going on including a great e-newsletter. Members recently hosted the EAA B-17 Aluminum Overcast. It was a wet weekend, but enthusiasm wasn’t dampened at Joliet Park District Regional Airport inIllinois.
Late morning, September 16, a beautiful silver bird landed at the Joliet Park District Regional Airport in theRomeoville, Illinois, area. For the fifth consecutive year, Warbirds Squadron 4 sponsored EAA’s B-17 Aluminum Overcast, and for several veterans, the highlight of the day was a flight in this piece of World War II history.
Staff Sgt. Bill Thorn, a flight engineer on Fertile Myrtle, had already made 25 missions on a B-17. Noted author and historian Edward Jablonski wrote the book Double Strike, an account of the disastrous August 1943 raid on the Messerschmitt 109 factory at Regensburg and the ball bearing factory at Schweinfurt. In the cockpit of the lead plane back then was none other than CurtisLeMay. Seeing plenty of action in the top turret that day was Bill Thorn. That was a terrible loss for the Mighty Eighth (U.S. 8th Army Air Force) – 60 planes and 600 men going down! With “Tokyo” tanks, they landed at a dismal base in North Africa. After retrofitting, they left Tunisia, bombed a 109 dispersal area in Bordeaux, France, and returned to base in England. Cpl. Ray Fuller, a B-29 radio operator in Korea (air refueling), was also on Aluminum Overcast.
Another on the flight, his first on either a B-17 or B-24, was Staff Sgt. Lou Seno, a 14th Air Force B-24 crew chief in India. With a crew of ten, Lou worked in 110°F heat or the driving rains of the monsoons. Also on Aluminum Overcast was Lt. Morrie Reinke, a B-17 pilot with the 15th Air Force in Italy. Out of 35 missions, 34 were over gross!
Charlie Mueller was also on the B-17. He had previously flown as a B-17 navigator with the 452nd Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. We all know that Steve McQueen starred in The Great Escape, a flick about the infamous German prison camp, Stalag Luft III. But whereas Steve was an actor, Charlie was a guest in the actual prison camp for 14 months, courtesy of someone named Adolf!
Friday, September 17, at Joliet was a slow day with only one B-17 flight. Saturday was a bust – rain – rain – rain. However, all was not lost. A large group of volunteers convened at a local restaurant for dinner and a fun time. There were six B-17 flights on Sunday and hundreds lining up for ground tours.
Squadron 4 member Tom Buck, commanding officer, gave rides in his TBM. Vlado Lenoch gave rides in his P-51 Moonbeam McSwine, including one to raffle winner Joe McBride, a Young Eagles pilot with EAA Chapter 579 in Aurora, Illinois. He’s walking on air! Keith Birsa flew in from Joliet with his Aeronca L-3, and three local pilots gave aerial demonstrations in their Pitts biplanes.
National Warbirds directorand Squadron 4 member Bill Miller brought his “Old Tyme” hot dog truck and served dogs, brats, and burgers to the volunteers, as well as to the hungry hordes. Thanks, Bill!
David Gray, a charter pilot and noted artist, gave away several of his beautiful prints, including a B-24 print for Lou Seno and a print of a Wildcat flaming a Japanese Zero for this writer.
Again, local Ford dealer Rick Bakerprovided a courtesy car for the B-17 crew. Rick’s father flew Corsairs during the war, and Rick is now a Warbird member!
I don’t know if you heard the following phrase spoken at Lewis University Airport on September 17 through 19, but I did. And it sure puts the B-17 tour stop into perspective: “Even rain can’t dampen a warbird fan’s spirits with a WWII bomber sitting 20 feet away.”
Despite overcast (not the Aluminum variety) and the threat of rain, the big ol’ B-17 arrived from Ohio on time Thursday with the crew and a bunch of Akron, Ohio, EAA chapter members. Our veterans were assembled and patiently waiting for their flight. We fed everyone, including bomber crew, veterans, Ohio EAA members, Squadron 4 volunteers, and the Lewis University Airport line crew, and that went well. Rick Baker brought the Flex over for the B-17 crew to use all weekend. Squadron 4 member and Aluminum Overcast crew chief GlennHill gave Mindy, daughter of member Frank McCarter (60 missions, Flying Tigers, 14th Air Force) a private tour of the B-17. She was thrilled! Since the doctor doesn’t want Frank driving, Mindy has been doing the driving duties and thus comes to our events.
For the fifth year, Stacy Kolls chaired the B-17 event for the squadron. With a cadre of approximately 50 volunteers, she had everything running like clockwork. The volunteers ranged in age from 82 (Bill Brown – you’d think he was 50) to 16-year-old new member Chris Millerin, who has been a Squadron 4 volunteer for several years now.
Great job, Stacy!