If you visit my “About” page, you’ll see a photo of me sitting in the pilot seat of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G “Nine-O-Nine.” I’ve had the pleasure of touring the plane a few times over the years on the Foundation’s annual stop around Dallas, but that was a special year because, with the Foundation’s local crew’s permission, I was able to get a private visit, before the crowds hit. I was working on my feature screenplay about the Eager Beavers then, and wanted to have more time to get a feel for the plane than a typical twenty-minute walkthrough would allow. Plus I just wanted the chance to be on the plane for an extended period of time to get even the slightest sense of what that was like. I spent four hours on Nine-Oh-Nine that day. Never got out. Sat in the nose compartment for a good long time, taking pictures, videos, making notes—staring out the windows. Ditto the top turret, radar, and waist. (I’ve posted some of that material on the Facebook page.) Obviously not the same as a long flight, but instructive nonetheless.
I did get the flight experience, too, though. Bought a ride for both my dad and me for Father’s Day back in 2008. For Dad it was the fulfillment of a life-long dream; he was drawing pictures of B-17s and P-51s when he was in kindergarten. (Three years later Collings also helped him fulfill his dream of flying a P-51.) He and I took turns sitting in the bombardier’s seat and peeking out into the slipstream of the radio room hatch. Many deep sighs during that half-hour. Dad wore that grin of disbelief off and on the rest of the day.
All courtesy of the Collings Foundation, and the fine folks responsible for maintaining and flying “Nine-O-Nine.” I cannot imagine the shock and pain those at Collings must feel in light of the horrible event this past week. I cannot thank them enough, though, for making such memorable, sometimes once-in-a-lifetime, experiences possible, and I truly hope they continue to, despite last week’s tragedy. We need to see these aircraft to properly appreciate the accomplishments and experiences of those who fought the war with them. That will continue to be an invaluable service, and one I hope that Collings will be able to provide long into the future.