Thursday, July 19, 2007

B-17 Bomber

Today was an exceptional day to say the least. The the Kalamazoo Air Zoo, they had a B-17 come in. (Several years back, they also had a B-52 come in as well)

Taylor and I hopped in the van and I sped the whole way, praying for no police. We got to the tarmac just in time to see the B-17 come into view and then touch down right in front of us! Talk about a glorious site and sound...knowing we were looking at history. Come to find out, there are now only 9 of these beautiful birds flight worthy.

Taylor stood there just so excited. The bomber taxied down and then came back to where we were standing. The airport is undergoing some sort of major renovations out on their runways and from the main runway to where the plane had to come was a MAJOR swatch of dirt. We watched her slowly inch up to the dirt and then stop. We heard her engines rev up and she moved a tiny bit, but then nothing. Seems that the dirt was more then just dirt, it was soft and the plane actually started to settle down into the dirt. So, they shut down all four engines and brought out one of those plane mover thingies. They got it all hooked up and it tried to pull it out and it couldn't. Pretty soon, we saw on of the big pieces of equipment they were using out for excavating come hook on and pulled it out.

They pulled it right by Taylor and we saw her name, Yankee Lady. So shiny, so beautiful. Pretty soon the doors opened and all these men poured out of her. They unloaded some stuff from her and then opened up her bomb doors and that is when Taylor got really excited! Now mind you, this child sits and watches the Military Channel all the time, and she has a special interest in these type of flying craft, so she is telling me what is what. A couple of the guys noticed her almost trying to melt through the fence and told her to come on aro...................before they could finish the word around, Taylor was through those gate doors and headed up to the Yankee Lady's nose.

They told her that they had a special group of guys coming in to see this plane. Special group? Try several chartered buses FULL of WW11 Veterans! We stood in complete AWE as we were soon completely surrounded by real American Heroes. This was a huge reunion of The Mighty Eighth. Taylor climbed on up into that plane and I followed her. Talk about transforming you right away to a whole different time and era, it was a weird feeling. Taylor even turned around and asked me 'Do you feel it?' Now, neither her nor I know what we felt, but we both know we felt it. There were veteran's in front of her and behind us so we sort of hurried through the plane. Talk about a tight squeeze!

We got out and we just talked with the guys that flew in on the plane and we stood around and listened to the rest of the guys talk to each other. Many came up and talked with Taylor, but it was more of a 'HI how are you doing sweetie' type of thing, they just didn't realize Taylor isn't your typical girl. Pretty soon, one of the guys told her to go back up in the plane and we soon found out why. Sitting up in there was a pilot, one that flew these very planes. He took the time to show Taylor what was what and what did what. It was so fascinating. Taylor stood there soaking it all up, to much in awe to really say much. Then, a really old man came climbing up behind us and he sat down, he kind of looked around. The whole time he was looking around, his face was changing. All of the sudden, he just sobbed. I am talking a gut wrenching sob. Even writing this now, I am crying just thinking about it. He tried to talk, but the words just didn't come out. Taylor and I stood back as far as we could (which was only about another inch from where we were!) He got himself composed as best he could, and he started talking. There were obviously only a few of us there, but it was like he wasn't talking to anyone in particular. This was the first time he had been back in one of these since his last mission.

He said 'Oh God, the memories, the memories' He started to almost caress the metal of the plane, he ran his fingers over the small window opening where he was at. He stood up and looked out the dome above us. He then said something unexpected, 'I have missed this so'. This whole time he was crying, I thought he was crying over painful memories. He wasn't, he was crying because he loved what he did so much, he was so proud of what he had done and he really missed it. It was such an overwhelming powerful moment.

Well, by then, a few more people were trying to peek up from below so Taylor and I moved to the back to let those that really belonged there have their time. We were able to go more slowly through this time and Taylor was able to really check things out. All I heard from her over and over again was....'this IS COOL'.

We got outside and an old man walked up to us. He told us that on his 17th mission, as they were leaving (and I don't know where he said they were leaving from, understandably he was a bit hard to understand) they had a 'minor' mid air collision. Minor midair collision? Is there such a thing as minor? LOL He said they were able to keep going on, but the other plane fell. Again, minor?! He said it was a 'one way' mission and they knew it. Both Taylor and my eyes were just glued to him, holy cow! He said they got near Russia and they were shot down. He told us his squadron had 80% loss. He looked back up at the plane and then he just shook Taylor's hand and walked away. I wanted to run after him yelling WAIT WAIT TELL US MORE, but I figured, he told us what he had to and that was that.

We knew the plane was getting ready to go out for a fly, so Taylor called up her dad and told him he HAD to come watch this. So, Dad and Tanner said they would come. They were lucky, they made it just in time to see the Yankee Lady pull out and take off. They fired up the engines and it sat there for a good 15 minutes just running. Everyone was so quiet, just taking in this amazing machinery in front of us. I looked through the front glass (I am not Taylor, I don't know the proper names to things!) And I will be darned if there wasn't one of those WW11 veterans sitting in there! Then I looked up to the top dome and there was another, standing up and looking out! Taylor and I talked about how excited those men must have been. They were able to be in 'their element', they were home again so to speak.
There was no way they were going to get stuck this time and there was no way they were going to accept a pull out, they told us they were 'going for it'. They told everyone to stand back because dirt was going to be flying.....they reved up those engines and just shot right over the dirt!

We got to watch her take off. It is amazing when you are at this big airport and the whole time you are standing out there with a WW11 bomber, you are right next to a run way that has commercial airliners taking off and landing. These things are so powerful and so loud and so dang fast. The Yankee Lady had a sound all her own. She slowly rolled out and it looked like a turtle pace compared to the big liners. She slowly left the runway and just glided into the sky.

We sat and talked with one of the crew for a bit until we got to watch the Yankee Lady come gliding back down just as smooth and slowly as she took off. Taylor kept saying how neat it would have been to hear and see a whole bunch of them together and flying in formation. He told us that after his last mission, when he came down into where he landed, there were 100 and 100's of those planes, all being scrapped. What a complete shame.

When they taxied in, they decided to go off to another place because they did not want to go through the dreaded dirt again, they said that the plane did NOT like it. So what was really cool was, when we got to where it was, we basically had the whole plane to ourselves and Taylor was able to go up with her Dad and brother.

I have pictures on her photobucket site. What a COOL day to have! We spent darn near close to 5 hours there and wish we could have had more.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Musta been one heck of a day!

My granddad flew with the Ninth Air Force, which flew smaller bombers and fighters, attack planes and the like. When my uncle bought an A-26 Invader my granddad had to just come over and see it. It was like he was transported back 50-60 years, he remembered everything about the Invader, and climbed into his aft section where the gun remotes were like an old pro.