Whether it's a conversation with a friend, a word that is penned, or a craft that is made, everything we do leaves a stitch in the fabric of time. Join us as we investigate the stitches of the past and present...
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: ... a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7).
decided to write a World War II story for the distant German relatives who
received care packages from my grandparents after the war, I needed a way to
bring an American into their lives. That didn’t require much thought. He’d be
an aviator shot down in Germany. That meant he needed to be on the crew of a
four-engine, heavy bomber. Either the B-17 Flying Fortress or the B-24
Liberator. Easy choice. The Liberator has been called the Flying Boxcar, Flying
Coffin, pregnant cow. No thanks. So the B-17 Flying Fortress it is.
about the Fort is simple enough. They were tough, durable airplanes, capable of
bringing their crews safely back to base despite horrific damage from ground
antiaircraft fire and from enemy fighter planes. Their wing span stretched 103 feet, and measured 74 feet
from nose to tail. The nickname Flying Fortress came from the many
machine guns located in the nose, top turret in the roof, ball turret
underneath the plane, waist windows, and tail.
Ten men, later nine, comprised the
crew. The pilot was the plane commander, joined by the copilot, navigator,
bombardier, flight engineer/top turret gunner, radio operator, ball turret
gunner, one or two waist gunners, and the tail gunner.
If you’ve seen the movie Memphis Belle, you’ll have a Hollywood
version of a B-17 crew. The men spoke to one another in normal voices while
flying. They appeared unfettered by the extreme cold in the unheated,
unpressurized plane with open waist windows. Temperatures of minus thirty were
common. And they breathed normally without face masks at altitudes over 10,000
The best way to experience a B-17
is to fly in one, so I did. Aluminum
Overcast was noisy. Standing face to face with someone, I saw his lips
move, but couldn’t hear a word he said. No way could the pilot turn to his
copilot and say something without using his headphones, and expect the copilot
to hear him.
Since we flew in summer, we were
grateful for the open window keeping the plane from heating up like an oven.
And we didn’t fly high enough to require oxygen. For films and television
shows, the actors take dramatic license and go maskless so the audience can
read their emotions rather than stare at a face covered with an oxygen mask and
not be able to recognize who was who.
Moving around in a B-17 requires
one to be a contortionist. The airplane was built as a weapon, not for
comfortable flight. Passages are low, narrow, and unpadded. To get out of the
nose section, where the bombardier and navigator work, you must get down on
your hands and knees to get into the crawl space leading up to the cockpit.
And, yes, it is for crawling. I did not duck low enough and banged my head. No
blood, fortunately, but it would not have surprised me.
Aluminum Overcast takes off, and I'm inside!
Aluminum Overcast was delivered to the
Army Air Force on May 17, 1945. The war in Europe was over. The war in the
Pacific didn’t need B-17s. The new airplane was flown to a storage depot in
Syracuse, New York, joining 228 other new unneeded B-17s and 33 combat-weary
planes. These surplus warplanes were put up for sale.
eighteen months, Aluminum Overcast
was sold for $750 to a Texas company that quickly resold it for $1,500 to
Universal Aviation Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It changed hands several more
times for increasingly higher prices. Several years were spent as a
high-altitude camera platform in a photo mapping role. It spent time as a cargo
plane hauling dressed beef to Puerto Rico and returning with undressed
cowhides. It served as a sprayer and fire eradication bomber.
Dr. William Harrison of Tulsa bought the work-weary plane for $75,000 and began
restoring it to its original purpose. He and his partners donated Aluminum Overcast to the Experimental
Aircraft Association in 1981 with the provision that the plane would be
maintained in an airworthy condition. From its home with the EAA in Oshkosh,
Wisconsin, Aluminum Overcast now
maintains a busy schedule flying around the country to air show and carries
passengers for short-duration flights.
flight worth the ticket? Yes. That’s as close as I’ll come to living history.
Terri Wangard, about to board Aluminum Overcast for a thrilling ride.