The Frontiers of Flight Museum, at Dallas Love Field (DAL) hosted the B-17, B-24, and B-25 operated by the Collings Foundation. And for a fee, rides were available. It's been several years since I flew in their B-24, and since then I've hoped for the opportunity to fly in their B-17. Today I had my chance!
Painted as "Nine-O-Nine," this is a B-17G Flying Fortress, built in Long Beach, California at the Douglas aircraft plant (the plant later became Air Force Plant #15). This aircraft joined the AAF late in the war, never seeing combat. But she did serve for several years, first in a rescue squadron and then in the Military Air Transport Service, before a final assignment as an instrumented test subject for three nuclear explosions. After languishing for over a decade, she had a second career as a fire bomber, before finally being acquired by the Collings Foundation.
I was in the first group to fly on this Saturday afternoon. The flight engineer briefed us on safety procedures, and we climbed in through the rear hatch and took our (non-historic) seats inside the aircraft. We had to stay seated and buckled in for takeoff and again for landing. Once the engines were started, we sat and waited while they warmed up. The plane shook so much it was difficult to tell if we were sitting still or moving. When we started to taxi, we could notice the tail wheel strut moving up and down. Finally, we took off, and once we were in the air we could move freely throughout the plane. From the waist gun positions, we had a good view outside, and as we turned away from the airport I noticed Love Field and downtown Dallas behind us. Moving forward, access through the bomb bay is on a narrow catwalk, and you have to squeeze between some angled support columns. You can see daylight around the edges of the bomb bay doors. Forward of the bomb bay is the radio operator's compartment, with the overhead hatch removed. This allows for a great view, although with a strong breeze! Moving forward again takes you to the upper turret position, and standing in the gunner's position allowed us to look out through the turret. At this point we are close behind the flight crew, who were focused on getting us safely through the skies over Dallas. By stooping and crawling, we could move under the flight deck to the nose of the plane. Up here is the bombardier's position. This was a tight fit for an average-sized adult. Once in the bombardier's chair, I could look down past the Norden bombsight at the city streets below.
The half-hour flight was just enough time for us passengers to maneuver through the aircraft and experience the various locations. It was a windy day, so we had a fairly bumpy flight. One passenger commented on how difficult it was to move about in the cabin. But we were in casual clothes, not cold weather gear and flak jackets; and no one was shooting at us!
As we landed and taxied back to the museum, we were all smiles. As soon as we came to a complete stop, a ground crewperson opened the hatch and we climbed out. We walked to the right, past the tail, since the engines were still running. As soon as we were all clear, the next load of passengers climbed in. I had an interesting view of a Super 80 landing in the background as the B-17 was loading.
I watched the B-17 take off on its next flight, then the B-24 and B-25 started up and took off with their first "bomb load" of passengers.
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