Sentimental Journey on the Trenton tarmac. ISLANDER PHOTO BY HENRY SCHULZ

B-17 bomber defended freedom



By Henry Schulz

Special to the Islander

[email protected]

TRENTON — Engine reverberations from a World War II B-17 bomber are echoing over the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport this week – an airfield that played its own role in defeating Germany and Japan. The airport was a forward operating base for Navy blimps as well as seaplanes and other scout aircraft during World War II.

On Monday, Sentimental Journey flew over Acadia National Park and towns on Mount Desert Island. The vintage bomber, which never saw combat but was stationed in the Philippines, is currently sitting on the Trenton tarmac and is available for tours at Scenic Flights of Acadia.

The B-17 G, a variant of the Boeing Flying Fortress, differed from other models in that it had a chin gun turret to help fight off German and Japanese forces from attacking from below the aircraft.

While the plane looks like it did nearly 80 years ago, some modern avionics have been installed.

“During WWII, B-17’s had beacons and radio navigation but sometimes they landed in the wrong place. Now, the B-17s have modern GPS and navigation systems in order to fly in modern airspace,” said Jacob Zilber, a Commemorative Air Force (CAF) volunteer.

As the B-17 took off Monday, the heavy smell of aviation fuel permeated the cabin. All on board wore ear plugs to protect their hearing from the roar of four nine-cylinder radial engines.

Two .50-caliber machine guns rested on each side of the aft cabin, and belts of dummy ammunition drooped down towards the floor. Another 11 were located strategically around the plane.

During combat, these waist guns could fire more than 11,000 rounds of ammunition.

Sentimental Journey has flown many WWII veterans during its trips around the country. Michael Pfleger, another volunteer for the CAF, said, “Some of the WWII veterans have tears in their eyes when they go up. It brings back tons of old memories that come flooding in – the sights, the smells, the sounds which you can only get from a plane like this.”

The B-17s were built before the Federal Administration Aviation (FAA) was formed, so the plane does not meet some of the current requirements for passenger aircraft. However, the FAA allows the plane to fly minimally for tourist purposes. It is officially registered in the federal aviation system. B-17’s fly at 1,000 feet for scenic tours, but when they were deployed, the planes would cruise at an altitude of 10,000 feet. “Air Force crew covered themselves up completely because they would freeze otherwise in the unpressurized cabin,” a CAF volunteer said.

The Arizona Wing of the CAF is offering both ground and flight tours of the bomber. The ground tours of the plane cost $10 per person or $20 for a family of up to four. The flight tours cost $425 to sit aft and $850 to sit forward.

The plane is based out of Phoenix, but due to the three digit temperatures there this summer, the Flying Fortress has been spending time in cooler climes. The plane arrived on Monday from Rockland and has been in Kansas, Ohio, New York and Ontario, Canada. It will be in Trenton until Aug. 20, when it departs to Albany, Alabama and Dallas. Visit azcaf.org.

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