Yeah! This was beyond exciting.
Prelude, how I hooked up with this.
The Collins foundation ( www.collingsfoundation.org/ ) have five WWII era planes traveling around the country showcasing them. The planes include a P-51 Mustang, P-40 Warhawk, B-25 Mitchell, a B-24 Liberator (BTW, the last flying B-24J in the world), and finally a B-17G Flying Fortress (one of ten flyable B-17s on the planet).
I saw an ad for the show and had planned on merely going to see them. But I noticed rides were available. For how much?! So, I considered that, for about a minute. With an angry ATM card in hand I signed up.
Chapter one, the co-stars.
Moffett Airfield in Mountain View, California is a pre-WWII Navy airbase. From Hwy 101 the most noticeable thing is Hanger One. It was built in the ‘30’s as a blimp hanger. Away back when asbestos was discovered in the hanger, so all the aluminum siding was stripped off leaving only the skeletal remains.
As I wandered onto the runway this was the first thing I saw, the B-24.
After a long line I was able to wander through the plane. But it was more like a crawl. The inside isn’t exactly roomy. I had a chance to walk/crawl through the B-17 but didn’t want to. That was something that I wanted to experience with no pre-conceived expectations.
Rides are also available on this plane. It was fueled, the crowd pushed back, and taxied away. See the guy sitting in the hatch? I want his job.
Chapter two, showtime!
One of my biggest worries was dropping my phone. But I couldn't use it very much. The poor thing was totally overwhelmed, completely inadequate for the job I was about to put it through. These pictures are “okay” but can’t begin to describe the experience. They don’t show the prop wash, or the smell of the engine exhaust, or the feel of the cold steel. Or the sheer scale of the plane, the outside is pretty good sized.
Eight passengers, and three crew for the half hour flight. During pre-flight we were briefed on what to expect. Seats were assigned, and some handy tips. One that struck me was the “Don’t grab the cables running along the roof. The pilot uses those to control the plane.”
I was the last onboard. Yes, it was crazy awkward getting my klutzy self through that tiny little hatch.
This plane has without a doubt zero crew comfort elements. Remember it was designed to drop bombs, not pamper its’ crew. I plunked onto my “seat”. Which was a piece of plywood with a minimal pad. Also, sideways to the plane, not a big deal until the pilot gunned the engines for takeoff. I slid that-a-way.
The plane was loud! Not ear-splittingly loud, but way too noisy for any casual conversation.
And bumpy! As soon as we could get out of our “seats” we had maybe twenty minutes to explore the plane. I spent a good chunk of that time finding something to hang onto. Every lurch we’d go bouncing around the cabin. One time I almost snagged a handful of the forbidden cables. I kept thinking that the only thing between me a 3000-foot fall was a very thin sheet of metal. This plane isn’t sealed. Outside air was being blown in from everywhere.
Inside space is tight! Getting from here to there required crawling as well as dodging lots of very sharp corners. Keep in mind the unexpected plane bumps. To get from the waist gunners to the radio room I had to maneuver around the belly ball turret and slither a very narrow catwalk through the bomb bay.
The radio room was astonishing! It had no roof! During pre-flight briefing this was described as a convertible. I poked my head OUTSIDE of the plane! At 250 mph! Now is not the time for that uncontrolled plane pitch. This was… This was… just… Ohmigawd… just …Wow! Never possibly conceived this was possible.
We weren’t able to go inside the ball turrets, also we had explicit directions not to disturb the pilots. But the nose was available. My visit seemed like just a few seconds but in real time was closer to a few minutes. Very, very cool!
Long enough for me to recognize a couple of landmarks. At takeoff the plane circled back over the runway, then turned south. What I spotted was Mount Umunhum, it has a very distinct radar installation. And I recognized a couple of reservoirs.
Back to the rear, and some sightseeing. I tried to snap a few pictures of the interior of the plane, but my poor little phone was simply incapable.
The flight engineer signaled us to sit and lock our seatbelts. Landing was eminent. A couple of mechanical bumps later and we were on the ground. After what seemed like an eternity taxing, we exited and that was that. Done.
Without a doubt the quickest half hour of my life.
Y’know, it’s one thing to watch films or read about flying in one of these things, but vey completely totally utterly different experience to sit in one. I can’t imagine what it was like to exist in there for multiple hours long missions, with very angry people shooting back. And the cold. And the lack of creature comforts. And the spent shell casings bouncing around. And the uncertainty. And…
And Wow… just… just… Wow!
Where’s my thesaurus, I need to find more synonyms for “Wow”!
Week Fifteen, Seriously Busy
Now that you've had the ride, go watch the B-17 sequence in the Heavy Metal movie!