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It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a bird on a plane!

Last week, I wrote about seeing a World War II-vintage B-17 bomber flying into the Lawrence, MA airport. It turns out it was a fund-raising event for the Experimental Aircraft Association's Greater Boston Chapter.

Saturday, I tossed aside my cleaning plans and ventured into the Heart Of Darkness itself, the Lawrence Airport. (Fortunately, the airport is on the fringe of the city, so I was able to "sneak up" on it by going through Methuen, Haverhill, and North Andover.) The admission was a mere six bucks, so I forked over the money and approached this titan of history.

As one of the commenters noted before, there's an odd dichotomy to military construction. The huger they are on the outside, the more cramped they are on the inside.

(Much more below the fold, with lots of cool pictures)

Here are the specifications of a B-17G Flying Fortress. And not included on the list there is a maximum crew weight of 1200 pounds. That means that with a crew of 10, their AVERAGE weight has to be 120 pounds.

It's hard to comprehend the sheer size of this plane. I managed to get the whole thing from an angle, but from straight ahead the rope barriers meant I couldn't step back far enough -- I had to capture it in three overlapping pictures.

Those engines are remarkable in their sheer brute power. Each engine has nine cylinders, and each cylinder is three liters in displacement. Together, they put out 1,200 horsepower -- for a grand total of 4800 horsepower. And they put that power to use to spin propellors that are 11 feet, 7 inches in diameter.

In comparison, my Shaggin' Wagon has a 3-liter engine that puts out 200 horsepower. The Fuddy Duddy's engines put out 24 times the power of my car, and have 36 times the size.

The plane was called a "Flying Fortress" for a reason. At the time, the US didn't have fighter planes that could accompany and protect the bombers on their long-range missions, so they had to protect themselves. The Fuddy Duddy bristles with 13 .50-caliber machine guns -- two on the chin, one on each side of the cockpit, one turret on top, one ball turret on the belly, one gun that can be fired out the "sun roof," a waist gun on each side, and a tail turret.

(This photo shows what must have been the last sight for quite a few German fighter pilots. I want to call this one "And I say it's WABBIT SEASON!")

Everything about this plane, from the outside, is big. The wings are huge, the horizontal stabilizers are huge, even the tires are huge. I could walk, standing straight, under the wing and not come close to hitting my head until I was between the engines -- and I'm six feet tall.

Now that I've impressed you all with the big aspects of this plane, it's time to get small. My six bucks allowed me to go inside.

The bombardier's station was closed off by a plexiglas door, but this might show you just how cramped it was -- but with a magnificent view. And the cockpit wasn't much better. The bomb bay was of pretty good size, but the catwalk to cross it was frighteningly tight. (The little boy was terrified of walking across it, but eventually did.) I didn't like crossing it while the plane was on the ground; I don't want to think of having to do it at 35,000 feet.

The radio operator's station was a bit too dark for my camera, but they had restored it to its original condition, with original equipment -- it even had a telegraph set. But I did get one nice picture of the view he enjoyed.

I am tremendously grateful to the men and women who keep this remarkable piece of history alive and flying, and I would urge any of you with the least bit of appreciation for what World War II meant to this nation to go and see her if she visits near you. And if you can scrape up the $395 they charge for a chance to actually fly in her, you have my eternal envy.

Comments (9)

I responded to your previou... (Below threshold)

I responded to your previous post on the B-17. I stated that I sat in the bombardiers chair as we flew over the steel mill in Gary IN. In this post you show some nice photos that iillustrate a sealed offf bombadier compartment.

The B-17 I flew in was different. It tours with a B-24 liberator and you can see them here.


On my flight they had us buckle up in the waist section sitting on the floor on wooden planks during takeoff and landing. Once in the air we were allowed to wander through the aircraft at will. And those radial engines are L-O-U-D!

Yes, the plane small and cramped inside and what surprised me the most was that I thought it was capable of carrying a larger payload of bombs. Another was that the tail gunner was sealed off from the rest of the plane, blocked by the large retractable rear landing wheel. Once in the tail, you were stuck there until back on the ground.

Man, you should have bit the bullet and taken a flight.

Again, I like your blog and check it out daily.

I was born in 1955, so I wa... (Below threshold)

I was born in 1955, so I wasn't even a gleam in anyone's eye when the greatest generation defeated the Axis Powers in WWII, but I am one of the relatively few people living today that have had the opportunity to fly on board a B17 aircraft...and not fork over cash to do it. At the 1987 Dayton Air Fair (at least I think it was 1987, but if not it was very close to that year), two of my buddies and I fixed a radio problem on the Collings Foundation B17 with nose art "909", and for our efforts we were rewarded with a ride the next day. We got three round trips around the Dayton International Airport in Vandalia, OH over the cheering crowds of the air fair. I stood in the engineer's gun turret for the takeoff, and sat in the bombardier's nose position for the landing. Amazing how close the ground looks through that glass while landing!

Immediately after takeoff, smoke began to curl up from underneath the instrument panel and the pilot (who had flown the B17 in WWII, I had been told) ripped out the pilot's microphone and the smoke stopped. He grinned and said, "Same thing happened to the copilots side on the last flight."

Sadly, I heard that specific aircraft ran off the runway several weeks later and several folks were hurt and the aircraft badly damaged. Since the one I flew on had the nose art "909", I don't know if the current "909" flown by the Collings Foundation is that same aircraft resurrected or a different one with the same nose art.

Wherever you are, Randy Mullins and Steve Greer (and me, Craig Bondy), we sure had a memory made that will stick in our minds forever that day! The three of us cooperated in fixing the radio problem (although truthfully, Randy and Steve fixed it), while I wandered thru the aircraft oohing and aahing, and noticing how VERY thin the aluminum skin was that the enemy bullets had to penetrate...kinda like tissue paper to the bullets, I suspect.

It was at that moment, on that aircraft, that I thanked God that all of my Air Force service was peacetime and that the greatest generation took all the risks for my freedom. God bless every aviator, living or dead, who has served for freedom's cause.

I actually saw one flying o... (Below threshold)
Rodney Dill:

I actually saw one flying over Detroit a few years ago, which was pretty bizarre. I think somewhere in Canada had one.

But what I really want to know is how did you manage to get in so many of the pictures?

Rodney, I WISH that was me ... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Rodney, I WISH that was me in all those photos. But Mr. Duckie has a bit more hair on top than I do.

BTW, he's in all but the bombardier station, the bomb bay catwalk, the front-quarter, the nose art, and the three front-angle photos. He might be tough to find in the long shot of the left wing, but he is there.


I was fortunate enough to f... (Below threshold)

I was fortunate enough to fly on the Collings Foundation's B-17 'Nine-O-Nine' in 2002. what a great experience! we flew out of Trenton airport on a drizzly day. as soon as we lifted off the sun came out and it was beautiful!
I took my girlfriend with me. It was her first EVER flight in an airplane!
if you can beg, borrow or steal the money-do it! these aircraft won't fly forever and are getting more scarce by the day. you won't regret it.

Several years ago I had the... (Below threshold)

Several years ago I had the good fortune of being able to tour a B17 in Columbia, SC. I'm not sure which one it was. Being Columbia, the afternoon was blistering hot and I wasn't looking forward to standing in line, but I was bound and determined to see that aircraft.

The time in line turned out to be time well spent. There were half a dozen former crew and pilots standing in line with me and I was privileged to share an hour's worth of stories and memories from these amazing men. The stories took on a whole different dimension when I finally had my chance to step up into the aircraft. The job these gentlemen did was truly heroic.

I toured the plane and got some great video footage of it. I am still amazed at how little crew space there actually was in these beasts.

Rodney, the B17 you saw w... (Below threshold)
mark m:

Rodney, the B17 you saw was from Willow Run airport.
I see them out and about from time to time....and you know when they are coming. Four stacks of radial engines have a now unique rumble.

About a year ago, I heard t... (Below threshold)
Red Five:

About a year ago, I heard that there was an air show of some sort here at Tri Cities TN. A few minutes later I heard then saw a B-24 Liberator take off, followed a few minutes later by a gorgeous B-29 Superfortress. The Super orbited for a few minutes (I don't know how many miles away it got on its orbit, but boy could you hear it all the way!), then headed north-ish and was gone. Supposedly there were a couple fighters there, too, but I never saw them take off.

I had a old friend who had restored a Navy Stearman bi-plane (WWI). He took me up once when I was nine. Amazing flight.

If any of you have a chance... (Below threshold)

If any of you have a chance to visit way out west, you could check out March AFB near Riverside, CA. Not only is there a B-17 on display, they have two of the most amazing aircraft in my estimation: a B-52 and an SR-71. The B-52 is awesome for it's sheer size (sorry Jay, the B-17 is a runt compared to this thing!) and the SR-71 is just frickin' cool. The Blackbird has ropes around it so you can't get too close, but you can walk right up to the BUFF and look up into the landing gear bays.






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