|Flying in history (3/14/09)|
Jim Lewellen with the Commemorative Air Force explains the history behind this Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, named the "Sentimental Journey." Video by James Gilbert and Janet Chasse
|Before flight talk (3-14-09)|
Vintage aircraft fall under different FAA regulations for maintenace, as is explained in great detail before each flight. Video by James Gilbert and Janet Chasse.
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Vintage planes are a flight into history
If you ever get a chance to ride in a B-17 or any other vintage aircraft from World War II, do not pass it up. I assure you it is a lot of fun and something you will never forget.
For me, that opportunity came Thursday afternoon with a 20-minute flight on a fully restored Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, named the "Sentimental Journey."
The plane is owned by the Commemorative Air Force and is in town for Saturday's Yuma Air Show. The CAF is a nonprofit organization that restores and flies vintage military aircraft around the country.
Something new to the Yuma Air Show this year is two organizations selling flights on vintage WWII aircraft: the CAF and The American Icon tour, which sells flights on a P-51 Mustang.
American Icon Tour is bringing two of its P-51s to the air show. While originally a single-seat fighter, said director of marketing Jim Pera, both have been modified with a jump seat that allows for a second person in the cockpit.
"One of them has dual controls that actually allow the passenger to take the stick," Pera said.
Looking back on my flight, the one thing I would have to say is, you just can't compare the hours you could spend looking at these planes while they're on static display to the short time you are soaring aboard them in the sky.
I was invited along on the promotional flight with Yuma Mayor Larry Nelson and several other members of the local media.
When I arrived at Yuma International Airport, the plane was actually parked over at Bet-Ko Air , so I had to wait for a ride to where it was.
Once there, I took a few minutes shooting video and taking some photos of this magnificent plane, which you can see online at Yumasun.com.
After signing a waiver promising not to hold the CAF responsible for any mishap that may befall me from the flight — at least that's what I think it was — we were given a quick preflight briefing.
I climbed aboard the plane through a rear door between the tail section and where the waist guns are mounted.
Don't know what compartment I was in, but I sat in one of the four canvas seats back there, along with a CAF member who I assume was the crew chief for the flight. Unfortunately I didn't get his name.
Mayor Nelson was up in the cockpit while the other members of the media sat in the radio room, which was toward the middle section of the plane and just behind the bombing bay.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, the takeoff roll down the runway began. Moments later we lifted into the air to the sounds of all four 1,200-horsepower engines running at full power. It was thrilling.
We had to stay belted into our chairs for takeoff and landing, but we were allowed to stand and look out the windows almost as soon as we were airborne. The view was amazing.
During the flight, our crew chief told us about the plane's 13th gun, which is located in its radio room. He said the gun, which doesn't have a turret and is not visible from the outside of the plane, was used for shooting at high enemy fighters.
The waist guns were just a few feet from where I sat and appeared to be loaded with belts of empty 50-caliber cartridges. Although I didn't ask about them, I just figured they were inoperable nowadays.
After the flight was over, I talked to Jim Lewellen of the CAF. He told me the plane was actually built in late 1945 and flown to the Philippines, only to be brought back to the states a short time later.
"It never saw any war or any action," Lewellen said. "It flew coastal patrol up and down the West Coast until the war ended."
After the war, Lewellen said, the plane was sold off and used for many years to perform firebombing. That's the wildfire suppression technique where water and chemicals are dropped onto fires.
You could actually see some of the dents on the plane's wings and propeller from where it had hit the tops of trees.
The plane, now based in Mesa, was finally given to the CAF in 1978, Lewellen said, and now that it has been restored, is flown as a flying museum.
When the CAF got the plane, Lewellen said, its top turret was missing. Fortunately they found one to replace it in a very unusual place.
Lewellen said they found a man in Oregon who actually had a plane on the top of his gas station, so they took the turret from that plane and mounted it on theirs.
"We had to beg, borrow and steal a lot of stuff," Lewellen jokingly said. "And what we couldn't get that way, we had to build."
Pera, of American Icon Tour, said the P-51 Mustang is one of the most famous, recognizable and successful airplanes in WWII.
"It's truly a one-of-a kind aircraft. To this day, it still has the ability to appeal to crowds young and old alike."
About 15,000 Mustangs were built during the war years, according to Pera, and only 125 are still skyworthy. Several others are under various stages of restoration.
"Flying in one of these is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It's a time capsule flying through history."
The Mustangs will be on display during the air show, but if you want to take a flight in one, you will have to wait a week.
Pera said they will only be taking sign ups during the air show for the rides, which won't be given until the following weekend March 20-22.
These flights don't come cheap, however. The Mustang flights costs $850 and $975 for a 20- minute flight. The 40-minute flights cost $1,700 and $1,900.
If you are interested in a flight, call Pera at 1-661-714-9781.
The 20-minute rides on the B-17, available during the air show, cost $425. There is no set flight time. I'm told they will take off whenever they have a minimum of five people signed up.
You can sign up for a flight during the air show or call the CAF at 1-602-448-9415.
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854.