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 Memphis Belle over San Francisco

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Juan Freizwidatt
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 20, 2013 10:00 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

I flew in a WWII B-17 bomber today. This was the third B-17 I've gone up in. (My bucket-list goal is to fly in every surviving airworthy B-17, but I doubt I'll ever achieve that.)

I first went up in the Liberty Belle a few years ago; sadly, that plane was destroyed by an engine fire in 2011. Last year I flew in Aluminum Overcast. Today I soared over San Francisco Bay in 'Movie' Memphis Belle. (A couple of years ago I also flew in a B-24, Witchcraft.)

Of the nearly 13,000 B-17s manufactured during WWII, almost 5,000 were lost in combat. Many more were destroyed in accidents. Most of the surviving planes were scrapped after the war, and many a post-war cooking pot, car or refrigerator was made with recycled aluminum and steel from derelict bombers.

Only about a dozen are still airworthy today. None of the ones that are in flying condition saw combat. All were delivered late in the war. Some were used for non-combat military uses, but ultimately all were sold as surplus and went on to fly as tankers or freight haulers until they became too old to maintain. Fortunately that was around the time when people started recognizing the historic importance of these great planes and many have been restored back to their original military configuration and either put into airworthy condition or placed on static display.

Very few actual combat veterans still survive. Most were so damaged and patched up after so many missions that they were the first to be scrapped. The two most famous combat veterans are Memphis Belle, which deteriorated and was vandalized horrifically while displayed outdoors in Memphis for decades after the war, and The Swoose. Both are now being painstakingly restored by the Air Force but will be used for static display, Neither will ever fly again.

Even though the planes which are still airworthy didn't see combat, most have been named in homage to B-17s that did serve in the war.

The plane I flew today was used by the military in Europe and Asia from 1945 to 1959, before being converted to a tanker. In the 1980s it was restored and reconfigured from its original B-17G construction to a B-17F. In 1989 it was leased to serve as the star of the movie "Memphis Belle," a dreadfully bad film that thoroughly misrepresented the story of the real Memphis Belle. Some years later, at the insistence of the Air Force (who was concerned that people would confuse this plane with the actual combat survivor), the owners painted 'Movie' onto the nose art to distinguish it.

B-17s are amazing, even if these restorations are homages rather than combat survivors. The Movie Memphis Belle is one of the most accurate of all restorations, with working turrets and bombsight; the latter can still control the autopilot. And although it was originally built as a B-17G, it is the only restored plane flying with earlier F features. The differences are not too dramatic; the F has a longer tail gun position and no chin turret. Those don't mean much to people who fly in them today, but there is one major difference: the waist gunner windows are wide open in the F series. All of the B-17Gs have plexiglass. The amount of wind that was tearing through the rear of the plane in flight was unbelievable, but the views through open windows sure beats anything I saw when flying in B-17Gs.

Flying at 1,500 feet as a sightseer is obviously a very different thing than flying at 30,000 feet in sub-zero temperatures, being shot at by fighter planes and flak guns. Still, it is possible to get a small sense of what it must have been like for those young boys who flew these planes on long, dangerous missions, where the odds of surviving 25 missions were around 1 in 4. Those odds got worse as the number of required missions was raised late in the war, first to 30, then to 35.

But instead of experiencing the terror they must have felt, I got to enjoy one of the most scenic views imaginable: a slow, low altitude pass above San Francisco, over the Golden Gate Bridge, then turning around for a second pass over the bridge and crossing over Alcatraz, the Bay Bridge, circling around Treasure Island, and back over the Bay Bridge before landing. The weather could not have been more idyllic -- 78 degrees and crystal clear.

I wish these tiny pictures could convey even a fraction of the real life thrill.

Movie Memphis Belle:

Image

Taxiing to the runway:

Image

Lift-off:

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During takeoff I sat in the radio operator's seat; the top of that compartment is wide open. Once we were airborne people could stick their heads out of the top of the plane for a great view over the tail:

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The Bay Bridge, with downtown San Francisco in the background:

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In the cockpit with the pilots, looking out the side window:

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The pilots at work:

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Looking out over San Francisco:

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Flying over the Golden Gate Bridge before circling around for a second pass:

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Alcatraz:

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Circling around the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge (supposed to open in September) with the original 1936 bridge alongside:

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The first time I flew in a B-17 I called it the experience of a lifetime. I never really thought I would become addicted to it and keep doing it.

Next year I'll go up in Nine-O-Nine, god willing.

(If you're interested in a first-hand account of what it was like flying missions during WWII, this article is a real eye-opener.)

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 20, 2013 10:54 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

I'm very jealous. Ever since I read Catch-22 for the first time (it's now my favourite book) I've wanted to fly in a WWII bomber.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 20, 2013 11:02 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

You are so lucky. I love anything got to do with WW2. But to fly in those planes....I am so jealous

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 20, 2013 11:09 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

That is a fantastic Eaterversay present!

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 20, 2013 11:10 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

It's always great to see these old girls still taking to air and keeping history alive!

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 20, 2013 11:20 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Yeah I'm Jealous as well!

I remember watching the film with my Father who was a U-boat Hunter during WWII. What stuck with me was his comments on how they were trained to be 'Men'; when in fact they were a bunch of teenagers doing something that ' No Man should ever be asked to do'.

I've never flown in a Bomber ( Unless Aeroflot counts) but we did climb into one in a War Museum once. My Father and I were escorted off the property....

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 20, 2013 11:38 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

:slaps forehead:

I was so blown away by the views that I didn't think to shoot a bunch of pictures of the interior of the plane this time around. Duh. I only have a couple.

Juan sitting at the radio table for takeoff:

Image

The bomb bay. To get from the rear to the front of the plane you have to walk along a 6" wide catwalk with ropes to hang on to. Don't slip; the bomb bay doors can't support the weight of a human so if someone were to slip off the catwalk they'd fall right out of the plane.

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The ball turret. They won't let people fly inside it. Bummer, I think it could be fun, at least for a half hour flight. I can't imagine how guys sat in these on 8-10 hour missions.

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The Norden bombsight in the nose of the plane. The view in here is unbelievable -- surrounded in a plexiglass bubble.

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An exterior shot of the tail gunner's perch. This was not accessible during flight because getting to it requires walking around the tail wheel, which is wide open. One slip and bye-bye. The tail gunner had the most dangerous job of the entire crew. He was the only line of defense against fighters approaching from the rear. Top turret and waist gunners couldn't shoot straight back. If a fighter took out the tail gunner, the plane was vulnerable to having the engines shot out from the rear, with virtually no risk to the enemy fighter pilot.

Image

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 1:04 am Reply with quoteBack to top

Those are some amazing pics Juan! Thumbs up

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 7:21 am Reply with quoteBack to top

Even though I'm not overly fond of flying nowadays, I'm still going a nice shade of green that you were able to go up in such an aircraft, Juan. I'd love to go up in a Super Conny. I believe Qantas has one that was brought back into operational condition and was last seen parked at Kingsford Smith Airport, Sydney.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 11:01 am Reply with quoteBack to top

Simply awesome!

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 6:53 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

There's another one touring Cali, Juan...might as well mark that one off if you haven't, right?

Aluminium Overcast

http://www.b17.org/

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 7:38 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Oh yeah, I have that on my schedule. Wink But I went up in Aluminum Overcast last spring so I don't plan another flight this year. However I may drive down just to see it again.

Collings Foundation is also touring California with their B-17, Nine-O-Nine, and B-24, Witchcraft. But they haven't scheduled anything very close to me this year.

I think I'm spoiled now. My first warbird flight was over SF Bay; the second was over Sonoma vineyards; the third was over Suisun Bay; and the forth was SF Bay again. As fun as the two other flights were, and while the scenery was pretty, they can't begin to compare to the mind-boggling beauty of SF Bay.

It's a double-whammy: a great aircraft and great scenery.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 9:33 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Fantastic photos of a rare flight in a classic, much-loved aircraft. Many thanks.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 9:37 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Superb. These are great old aircraft. Don't know if you've seen it but a small and highly dedicated group of British enthusiasts got an Avro Vulcan flying again some years back. Don't know if they do passenger rides but I guess you can ask Smile

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 22, 2013 11:31 am Reply with quoteBack to top

I own and once used a fair amount of the radio equipment that is at the radio operators position where you are sitting.The stuff was still widely available and cheap when I got my amateur radio license in 1974.I've no idea what it costs now,but I imagine it has gone up a bit Laughing

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 22, 2013 4:29 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Very cool. Juan, is this you riding the bomb down?

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 22, 2013 4:55 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

I thought maybe the Kalamazoo Air Zoo had one but i don't see one listed. From time to time we have offsites and Christmas party's here:

http://www.airzoo.org/index.php?menu_id=7

Naturally, a lot of fun flying the simulators. I only crashed it once trying to do an inside loop.
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 9:48 am Reply with quoteBack to top

Very nice, Juan. Aviation has such a short history it is good to see what there is of it being loved and enjoyed.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 1:35 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Love the old iron..

I had a ball over here: http://www.viator.com/tours/San-Diego/Top-Dog-Air-Combat/d736-3273COMBAT

Air combat is a hoot.. They fly out over the ocean and hand you control..

Two planes dogfighting for 45 minutes or so, and yes, I won the fight. Very Happy

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 24, 2013 9:38 am Reply with quoteBack to top

Very jealous. Mr. Green

I saw Memphis Belle a few years ago, on the apron at Guernsey, I think at the time she was grounded there with an engine issue.

There are a couple of B17s in bits on the moors near here, they flew into high ground in bad weather during WW2. I've been up to see them, and have a couple of scraps, just fuel pipe pieces.

I went to the Goodwood Revival a couple of years ago, the had the Battle of Britain Flight Lancaster fly over with every airworthy Spitfire they could find (10), it brought a lump to the throat, and was as loud as a Led Zeppelin concert.


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 28, 2013 2:21 am Reply with quoteBack to top

Some B-17's were made in a factory disguised as a suburban development: http://www.stuff.co.nz/oddstuff/5302332/The-suburb-that-never-existed. At their height they could crank out a dozen of the planes in a day!

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 28, 2013 3:40 am Reply with quoteBack to top

Thanks for sharing that, bo. That's one of the great stories of WWII aircraft production.

Sadly, the last vestiges of the original Boeing facility recently went under the wrecker's ball.

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Roycropper
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PostPosted: Sun May 05, 2013 10:48 am Reply with quoteBack to top

I took these yesterday, the Battle of Britain Memorial flight, over a historic car race meeting.

Image

Image

Their Lancaster, a Spitfire and a Hurricane

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Juan Freizwidatt
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PostPosted: Sun May 05, 2013 8:25 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Great shots!

I found these pictures of Memphis Belle online, wheels down and coming in for landing. I sure wish I had taken them. Either the photographer had a serious telephoto lens or he was damn close.

Image

Image

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Jayhawk
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PostPosted: Fri May 10, 2013 7:34 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Flying in a B-17 was one of the most dangerous jobs in the war. The casualty rates were out of this world. The original B-17s did not have forward firing guns, so the Germans would attack them head on where they were defenseless. The B-17G followed the B-17 and did have the forward firing guns.

As a sidenote, Hermann Goering's nephew (Werner Goering)flew a B-17 in the war. His copilot was under strict orders to kill Werner in the event of capture. Interesting story.

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