"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

"B-17," I yelled!

We were headed north from the house on errands, and there it was, big silver tail, silver lumbering across the hot and free Oklahoma sky. Straight wings. A long way off. It had to be a B-17.

My wife Susan thought something was wrong when I yelled it. I almost had a wreck trying to follow it rather than watching the road.

I'm used to the big AWACs jets sliding across the sky, slow for jet fighters but still faster than this. I recognized it immediately. That's what happens when you grow up in the aftermath of WWII.

I thought it was here for the air show, but that's two weeks away. Then I came home from more errands and Susan had its photo on her screensaver, thanks to UCO colleague Craig Beuchaw, who took its photo and posted it on facebook, asking how many other folks had a B-17 fly over the house.

Thanks to him, and others, and a website, I found out it's at Wiley Post airport today and tomorrow, "The Liberty Belle," one of only a few B-17's still flying.
Oh for a ride in it. My brother Jerry rode in one several years ago, and it cost $300 then. Now it costs $430--which helps maintain the historic aircraft that helped keep you and me from having to speak German.
I can't afford it, but I don't think  can afford not to. Here's the website, and you get to view videos as well.
http://www.libertyfoundation.org/

The last time I saw a B-17 was many years ago in Memphis, which had displayed The Memphis Belle of movie fame. Memphis has lost that Belle to Ohio for lack of support.

This is the "Flying Fortress," so well armed that it did well against Germany, and was famous for getting its 10 man crew home safely even when badly damaged. Of more than 12,000 build, 4,700 were shot down. Only 47 weren't scrapped at the end of the war, and today, only 14 fly.

Go see it. I will, and I know I'll cry.

History of the aircraft when I was 9 months old, safe in my bed in Dallas, Texas, from the website:
WWII crew photo for Liberty BelleOn September 9, 1944 the 390th Bomb Group attacked a target in Dusseldorf, Germany and suffered its second largest single mission loss of the war. Over the target just prior to bomb release, one of the low squadron B-17s was hit in the Bomb bay by flak. The 1000 lb. bombs exploded and nine of the twelve aircraft in the squadron were instantly destroyed or knocked out of formation.

Six of the nine went down over the target, one flew two hours on a single engine and landed at Paris, another "crippled plane" landed in Belgium and the other struggled back to its home base and landed long after the other thirty nine B-17s had returned from the mission. The one that came home was "Liberty Belle", she went on to complete 64 combat missions before being salvaged on February 18, 1945.

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