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Heidi Shaffer, Published July 07 2009

World War II veterans catch ride on B-17

More than 60 years after their last flight aboard a B-17, area World War II veterans are getting another chance at a ride this week.

“It’s fascinating to see them become 18 again when they sit in the seat,” crew pilot Kent Holiday said of the veterans’ experiences aboard the plane.

Veterans and aviation enthusiasts have the opportunity to take a flight in “Aluminum Overcast,” a World War II B-17 bomber today and Wednesday at the Fargo Air Museum.

The flights are part of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s “Salute to Veterans.” Holiday said it’s exciting to meet the veterans as they come back for a flight.

“They’ll bring medals out to show us,” he said.

“It’s not uncommon for them to get misty-eyed.”

“Even if they are a bit frail, they don’t have any trouble getting in the airplane because they’re so excited about it,” he said.

The B-17 was donated to the EAA in 1983 by a group of investors who had restored the retired plane. The interior is authentic, complete with netted seats, exposed sheet metal and .50-caliber machine guns.

Inside, passengers can get an unobstructed view of the sky above from an open overhead hatch and even travel below the cockpit for a view of the ground from the bombardier, a Plexiglas compartment known as “the bubble.”

Proof of the B-17’s “Flying Fortress” nickname is in the 13 guns defending the aircraft, which often came under heavy fire during the bombing missions.

The plane uses 200 gallons of fuel an hour, including another gallon for each propeller, Holiday said.

“It’s fairly expensive,” he said, estimating that each half-hour flight costs several thousand dollars.

The four-man crew consists of volunteer active or retired commercial pilots and mechanics who have undergone thorough training on how to fly and maintain the vintage aircraft.

If you go

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 235-7311