Story and photos by: Butch Meriwether
The distinctive sound of four massive reciprocating engines on a B-17 Flying Fortress rumbling through the skies over Kingman and the surrounding areas could be heard last weekend.
Because of the concerted efforts of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chapter 765 in Kingman, the sounds of a B-17G WWII Flying Fortress could once again be heard winging its way through the skies.
Through a program offered by the EAA, the B-17G Flying Fortress named Aluminum Overcast, touched down at the former U.S. Army-Air Forces Training Field, now called the Kingman Airport located north-east of the city, and was on display last Friday through Sunday. Besides the static display for visitors to get up close view of the aircraft and take photos, there were displays in the terminal building, and a select few were able to have a chance-of-a-lifetime by taking a ride in a B-17G.
All I can say is I was honored to be able to take a flight in the B-17G last Thursday, along with other print and electronic media representatives, government officials and special guests.
The Aluminum Overcast never saw combat and is currently owned by Oskosh, Wis., based EAA. It was originally purchased as surplus from the military inventory for a mere $750 in 1946. Since then, it has flown more than one million miles and has served as a cargo hauler, an aerial mapping platform and in pest control and forest dusting applications.
Aluminum Overcast was fitted with: 12 50-cal. M2 Browning machine guns (some B-17s had 13); was capable of carrying 27 feet of 50-cal. ammunition for each gun, and 8,000 pound of bombs (32 250-pounders, 16 500-pounders and/or a combination of both. A 4,000-pound-bomb load was typical for long missions and depending upon how many pounds of bombs carried, predicated how much fuel the aircraft could carry and how far it could fly.
The B-17s was powered by four 1,200-horsepower Wright R-1820-97 engines, and could be flown at about 30,000 feet, the average cruising speed was about 150 mph, the top speed of 287 mph and it had an average range of about 3,750 miles depending upon the bomb load.
The crew members were an average of 5’ 5” tall and weighed about 140 pounds, and included: four officers – a pilot, copilot, bombardier and a radioman-navigator; and six enlisted – a crew chief who also served as the top gunner, and five others who served as the tail gunner, front gunner, the belly or waist gunner and the two side gunners.
From my personal experience of my flight on the B-17 (I am almost 220 pounds and am about 6’2½” tall), I realized when I got into the various areas of the aircraft; the crew had to be small because most of the areas were very tight. Yes, being my size, I had difficulty getting into some of the areas and bumped my head numerous times.
Two people from the Kingman area who arrived to view the warbird Thursday have a special connection to B-17 Flying Fortresses. They were 92-year-old Elmer Eckstorm who flew B-17s during WWII for six years, beginning at the age of 19 and 95-year-old Vivian Stout who worked as one of the “Rosie Riveters” helping assemble the B-17s at the McDonnell Douglas assembly plant in Santa Monica, Calif., at the age of 22.
Most of the combat-era military B-17s are now privately owned and only those airworthy take to the skies for a recreational flight, to participate in air shows, demonstrations and for static displays.
Today it is estimated that only about 46 B-17s are in existence today and only 11 are airworthy in the U.S., and the B-17G Pink Lady in France, and the B-17G Sally B in United Kingdom. However there are many of the 46 remaining B-17s that are currently under restorations now in the world and some are only museum displays unable to take to the air.
There were a total of 12,731 these aircraft manufactured from 1935 through 1945. The first aircraft, designated as the Model 299 prototype, was designed in 1934, by Boeing Aircraft Company of Seattle, Wash., and its first flight was on July 28, 1935. There were 6,981 B-17s of various variations produced by Boeing and an additional 5,750 were built by Lockheed and Douglas.
The B-17G Aluminum Overcast will be on display at the Lake Havasu City Municipal Airport from Friday, Feb. 24 through Sunday, Feb. 26 and is hosted by EAA Chapter 681. Tours and flights are available for: EAA members – $435; non-members – $475 and includes a one-year membership in the EAA (you don’t have to own an aircraft); ground tours are $10 for individuals, $20 for families. Veterans, active duty military and children 8 and younger are free.
For further information about Lake Havasu City’s EAA Chapter 681, call them at (928) 453-4650, email them at email@example.com or visit their website at 681.eaachapter.org and/or Kingman’s Chapter 765 at (702) 335-0764, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at 765.eaachapter.org. Kingman’s chapter meets at 9 a.m., the first Saturday of the month at the EAA Hangar, 4560 Flightline Dr. located at the Kingman Air Port and the Lake Havasu chapter meets at 10 a.m. the third Saturday of the month at Hanger 36, located at Lake Havasu City Municipal Airport.