This week Potter and I got the chance to go out to Dane County Regional Airport to take a tour of and then actually fly around over Madison in EAA's restored B-17 Flying Fortress named "Aluminum Overcast". It was one of the coolest things I've ever done.
The plane looks almost new, its been restored to look like it would when it was in service, with a million machine guns, top, chin, tail and bottom ball turrets, belts and belts of ammo, even what I hoped were dummy bombs in the bomb bay, and what was definitely a dummy crammed into what has got to be a very cramped seat in the tail gun.
Getting in, sitting in the mesh seats and buckling up trying to imagine how scary it would be to be headed on an actual mission made it easy to be pretty calm about what was the first flight I've ever been on that didn't serve peanuts and Diet Coke. The "Flying Fortress" was up and in the air in a heartbeat.
Pretty much right away we were given the signal to hop up and wander around the plane, being careful not to fall over or bang your head on anything you could walk up past the ball turret (I wouldn't be able to fit in it if I tried. I think its reserved for the smallest dude on the crew)) and into the radio room where the top hatch had been taken out and you could stick your head right up and out (I kind of felt like R2-D2). Then you could squeeze through the bomb bay and into the cockpit, then crawl under the pilots and into nose where the bombardier sits which is essentially all window (think The House on the Rock's Infinity Room only a bit higher up). Sitting in the bombardier seat and looking past my feet to the ground was super crazy. Don't worry, I tried to dump the payload but the trigger didn't work, Madison is safe for now.
By the end of the flight a few guys were getting airsick from looking through their camera view finders, probably a similar sensation to staring down a gunsight while in flight, but everyone held on to their lunch. The pilots put the B-17 down for a smooth landing and we hopped out onto the tarmac with a few extra chest hairs and a lot of respect for the men who piloted and manned these impressive machines of war when it really counted. Just an amazing piece of history being kept alive by the folks at EAA.