|B-17 "Flying Fortress"|
The first thing your body understands when you approach is how small these mighty planes are. Tiny. The B-17 Flying Fortress was only 74’long. And then you feel how tiny and cramped as well. Nearly impossible to navigate through even though they’re resting steady on the ground.
And how hands-on. To operate the mid-ship guns, you had to open a portal and shoot. And hope for the best. In an unpressurized plane, bucking around thousands of feet up in the freezing sky with flack bursting all around, and German fighters coming at you from all sides. Good luck to you.
Navigation, WWII style. On a wing and a prayer. And the guts of the plane are all cables and pulleys, wheels and gears. Not a microchip in sight.
|Looking into the cockpit|
All designed to deliver twelve of these 500-lb bombs. Which, considering the ultimate massive destruction on German ground, meant endless sorties. Endless dangerous sorties. Not for the men who flew these planes was there the luxury of delivering death while seated half a world away in a bunker in Nevada. This struggle was up front and very personal.
And that’s the second thing your body understands while scrambling through the tight spaces. How close these young men were to instant oblivion. And, once engaged over enemy territory, how trapped and isolated they were, the bombardier far away, alone in the nose of the plane, the turret gunner locked into in his cramped turret ball. No easy escapes, no way out.
“Help him! Help him!” “Help who?” “Help the bombardier!” “I’m the bombardier. I’m all right.” “Then help him! Help him!”
And that’s the final thing you realize walking around these planes. How young the men were who went forth in these tiny airships. Babies, really. Brave, brave babies. Yet they saved civilization and secured the freedom that allowed you and me to grow up in a strong, safe America. That was their job and they did their job. All the young gallants.
The two planes planes on display at the SLO Regional Airport (the F-51 fighter was in the shop for repairs) were part of the Collins Foundation’s “Wings of Freedom Tour,” a private group that is responsible for restoring and maintaining the planes and taking them out on tour throughout the country. It’s a form of living history for a country that is far too comfortable in erasing its history.