Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Flying Fortress Is Still Soaring; B-17 Takes to the Skies with Memories of WWII

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Flying Fortress Is Still Soaring; B-17 Takes to the Skies with Memories of WWII

Article excerpt

Byline: SANDY STRICKLAND

As he stood on the runway, Robert Kling looked at the Fuddy Duddy and thought of the thousands of young men who died in its cramped quarters.

"The plane looks very romantic, but I think about all the blood that was lost," Kling said. "Every time you climbed in, you had no idea if you would see the ground again."

Kling, 69, was talking about the B-17 "Flying Fortress." The retired Navy chief and Florida Aviation Historical Society member came to Cecil Commerce Center Oct. 20 to see one of the greatest military aircraft ever built.

"It was our ability to mass-produce these planes that helped turn the tide of World War II," he said.

The historic plane was on display in Jacksonville to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II as part of the Experimental Aircraft Association's Allied Victory Tour. Rides were offered to the public and the media.

With six passengers huddled in the radio room and waist gunner area, the workhorse bomber vibrated as it lumbered down the runway. The rumble of its four 1,200-horsepower engines emitted a deafening roar as the B-17 became airborne and transported its passengers back six decades.

There are 13 machine guns mounted throughout the bomber, giving it a sting in its nose, tail, belly and almost everywhere else. But as the plane flew at 1,500 feet, passengers had to imagine German munitions plants as targets instead of local landmarks such as Alltel Stadium and the Modis Building. The bomb bay was empty, and the guns behind many of the canvas seats were just props.

Above the skies of Germany, however, crews had to hold formation while concentrating on dropping their bombs amid a carpet of anti-aircraft fire and often had to fight off quicker German fighter planes.

The gunners had their hands full trying to shoot down enemy planes.

Deadly as their mission could be, the bombers proved instrumental in stopping the German war machine, Kling said.

When production ended in 1945, almost 13,000 had been built with 4,735 lost during combat missions. Only a dozen or so still fly today. This plane, built by Douglas Aircraft in 1944, was used as a VIP transport, most notably ferrying Gens. Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur.

It was restored to resemble the original Fuddy Duddy, lost in December 1944 in a midair collision over Germany after many successful bombing runs. The aircraft features a caricature of Warner Brothers cartoon character Elmer Fudd on the side of its aluminum nose.

The Experimental Aircraft Association has been leasing it from the National Warplane Museum in Elmira, N.Y., while its own Aluminum Overcast bomber is being repaired, said Dick Lewis, tour coordinator for the Wisconsin-based group. With proper maintenance, vintage aircraft will "fly forever," he said.

But it takes some physical effort to fly the bomber, Lewis said. …

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