Wednesday, July 21, 2010

World War II B-17 Aircraft "Aluminum Overcast" Makes Stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa




A World War II vintage B-17G made the Cedar Rapids, Iowa airport its home for two days in 42N country. The "Aluminum Overcast" is a warbird that travels the country offering rides and tours. This B-17 and the "Sentimental Journey" make their way here every two years or so. Their presence in eastern Iowa is a chance to mingle with those who have connections to the plane and era.

One person present this morning was inspired by an earlier flight on the Aluminum Overcast. Wendell Maakestad spent over 300 hours constructing a radio-controlled scale replica of the plane. He and the rcwarbirds club will be flying scale model planes near Marion, Iowa on Saturday. This morning Wendell was being professionally photographed with his plane and the real B-17 behind him.

A family from Waterloo, Iowa chipped in and bought a ticket on the plane for their patriarch's 89th birthday. He told me that his last trip in a B-17 before today was in 1945. He remembered the aircraft making a lot of noise but said today's ride was quieter probably because the enemy wasn't shooting at the plane.

He was based in Italy during the later stages of the war serving on a B-17s maintenance crew. After each mission he and his ground crew would run to the landing strip to see if their planes had made it back - many times the planes didn't return he reported. The worst for him was seeing a returning B-17 crew with three dead onboard from being shot by German aircraft.

Other passengers today, though much younger, were extremely thrilled to fly on one of a dozen or so remaining airworthy Flying Fortresses. Some 12,000 B-17s were manufactured in the United States during WWII. At one time squadrons of these planes would fly on daylight bombing raids from England to Germany with RAF bombers flying similar missions at night. There are many stories like the one from today that need to be told and heard. Fortunately the man's family was documenting his entire experience today.