It's quite a thrill to see a majestic World War II bomber up close and perhaps even get to touch its aluminum skin.
It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get to fly in one these great warbirds of history.
On Tuesday, members of the media were able to tour the Lehigh Valley aboard a B-17G Flying Fortress named "Aluminum Overcast." For a fan of military aviation, a ride aboard a heavy bomber – typical of the ones that flew so many precision bombing missions across Europe and helped bring the Nazi regime to its knees in the war – is something that will last a lifetime.
The bomber that appeared yesterday and today at the Lehigh Valley International Airport has been beautifully restored by EAA Aviation in Oshkosh, Wis. Allentown is one of the stops in its fall tour schedule, which also includes Leesburg, Va., Trenton, N.J., Harrisburg, Pa., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Kenosha, Wis. After the media flight over the Lehigh Valley on Tuesday, rides and self-guided tours of the aircraft were open to the public.
The first impression one gets in riding the heavy bomber is how dexterous a crewman had to be to weave his way through the plane. The crawl space, especially over the bomb bay to get to the nose of the plane, requires some sense of balance and being nimble of foot. The view from the nose, which is where the bombardier assessed his target during a bomb run, is awe-inspiring.
Another spot on the aircraft which took incredible dexterity, was the small cubicle under the belly of the plane where the ball turret gunner operated his twin .50-caliber machine guns. The fortress bristled with firepower, with 11 other .50 caliber guns, each able to fire at a rate of 13 rounds per second.
The mission of the heavy bomber throughout the war, however, was to destroy the war-making capabilities of the Third Reich.
The fortress could carry a maximum normal bomb load of 8,000 pounds, and with special external racks, that could go up to 17,600 pounds.
The plane has a maximum speed of 300 mph and a cruising speed of 170 mph, which is the speed that the silver-skinned "Aluminum Overcast" cruised on during its afternoon media run Tuesday.
On its website www.B17.org, the EAA states that "the B-17 continues to symbolize the traditional values of courage, honor, and freedom."
Its mission is to preserve this historic piece of aviation, a priceless legacy for our veterans and our country. In that, the group from Oshkosh deserves a thumbs up.