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B-17 Bomber Visit Re-creates History for EAA Chapter 677
By Ernie Kelly, EAA 1021470, EAA Chapter 677
November 2017 - One of the aircraft most responsible for winning World War II for the Allies, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was used throughout the war in all theaters but most famously in the European theater. The thunder of hundreds of B-17s leaving air bases in England every morning for targets in Europe was the sound of freedom.
That sound was heard again in Columbus, Georgia, recently as the B-17G Aluminum Overcast made an overnight stop and offered a glimpse of history to all who visited Columbus Metropolitan Airport on October 10. Local EAA Chapter 677 hosted the visit, with support from Flightways Columbus, the local FBO.
Several hundred area residents came to see one of the few remaining airworthy B-17s land at the local airport. Among them were dozens of active-duty service members and military veterans. Two of those veterans were former B-17 crew members now in their 90s — Robert Knight, a former flight officer, radio operator, and gunner who survived being shot down in 1943, and Arwood Begor, who served as a navigator on B-17s at the end of the war.
Fog and low ceilings delayed flying until early afternoon, but the crew was able to complete three flights before departing for its next stop. The last flight of the day included VIP passengers and EAA 677 members. The EAA members and their guests posed in front of the aircraft to re-create a photograph taken when the B-17 last passed through Columbus in March 1994. Among the VIPs were Arwood and Flightways manager Amber Clark.
After the flight, Arwood, 93, exited the aircraft like a teenage crewman, grabbing the bulkhead over the rear door and swinging over the obviously unnecessary steps to the ground. Arwood was candid when asked what it was like to return to an aircraft in which he’d spent so much time as a young lieutenant. “It was louder and bumpier than I remember,” he said. “I don’t think I could do it again, but I am so grateful for this.”
Amber sent a glowing thank-you note the next day, comparing her flight in Aluminum Overcast to her first flight nearly 20 years ago. “I was just as excited … as I was when I took my very first flight at a Young Eagles rally back in ’98,” she wrote.
EAA Chapter 677 President Gary Brossett considered the return of Aluminum Overcast a success by every measure, despite the weather, which limited the number of flights. “There are so few of these aircraft remaining, and we are rapidly losing the veterans who flew them,” he said. “To be able to let a former B-17 navigator experience this aircraft again and expose hundreds of others to this amazing piece of history is what EAA is truly about — ‘The Spirit of Aviation.’ Reenacting a photo taken by our founding members — that was such a great moment. It was a very good day.”