by Brooke P. Anderson, email@example.com
When I was a kid, I read of the exploits of WWII fighter pilots and dreamed of being one myself . . . if only I had been born 40 years earlier. For a long time, I had to make due with reading and thinking about WWII aircraft, but in the late 1980's, the world's first multiplayer air-combat simulator -- Air Warrior -- came out, and I couldn't believe my good fortune. It was a wish come true.
Today, Air Warrior is gone, and I'm far from being a kid, but I am still a WWII aviation nut. I continue to read WWII aviation history, and I fly in Aces High, which carries on Air Warrior's legacy with excellence.
I also enjoy going to flight museums, to see the planes in the flesh, so to speak. I used to live in Los Angeles and visited the Planes of Fame air museum in Chino, California. I went there for the first time during an Air Warrior convention, with my Air Warrior pals Blue Baron, GMan, and (I think) Acid Mentality and Velcro Fly. It is an outstanding museum for the WWII aviation nut, with a large collection of WWII aircraft, many in flying condition. In addition to an excellent assortment of US aircraft (P-39, P-40, P-47, P-38, P-51, F4F, F6F, F4U, B-17, B-26, SBD, B-25, TBM -- many in flyable condition), they had at the time I was there a Spitfire, Hurricane, FW 190, Bf 109, and some rare planes, such as the world's only flying A6M5 Zero, an Me 262, an He 162 Volksjager, an F7F Tigercat, an F8F Bearcat, a real J8M1 Shusui (Japanese version of the Me 163), a J2M3 Raiden, and a P-61 Black Widow.
Later, I moved to Seattle and visited the Museum of Flight there. It was a good place, but what made it much better in my opinion was when, in 2004, it put in the Personal Courage Wing, which is full of WWII fighters. Now, the museum has a FW 190D, Bf 109E-3, Spitfire Mk. IX, P-40N Warhawk, Ki-43-IIb Hayabusa (Oscar), P-38L Lightning, F4F-3 Wildcat, F4U-1D Corsair, P-47D Thunderbolt, and Yak-9U (rare!).
On the weekend of July 4th, 2004, my partner Traci Ivory's parents were visiting, and we decided to go to the Museum of Flight, along with my pals Mike Webster, Jim Merkle, and Lucy Krawinkel. As we drove up to the museum, we saw that there was a B-17 at the adjoining airfield. Wow! A flyable B-17! I hadn't expected that. It sure would be great if they would let us go up and walk around it, I thought, as we walked toward the area to check it out. Traci said to me, "Hey, there's a sign up about some sort of fees. Maybe they will sell rides on it." She isn't a WWII plane nut like I am. Although I didn't say it, I was thinking in my head, "Sweetheart, a B-17 is very, very special -- a rare treasure. There is NO WAY they would take people up flying in it. In fact, I'd be astonished if they let people even look around inside it. The fee is probably to go up and take a look around the outside." Instead, I said something like, "Mmm . . . I don't know about that." We continued to walk forward. As we did, I saw that there was a B-24 parked on the other side of the B-17. A flyable B-24! That is even more rare! I saw people milling around the aircraft. I didn't even bother to look at the signs -- obviously the signs were about how much it would cost to get admittance to go look at the planes, which I was going to do. Traci said to me, "Yeah, you can buy flights." No freaking way. I looked over at the signs. "Ride on a B-17 or B-24 for $400." Holy crap! $400 for a ride on one of them? I couldn't believe it.
We went in and looked around at the magnificent bombers. For $8 or so, they let you go inside the bombers and walk around inside! That alone was unbelievable to me. We checked them out, including reading the histories of the planes. It turned out that the B-24 (painted as The Dragon and His Tail) was even rarer than I thought: it is the world's only flying B-24. After thinking about it a bit -- I'm not sure why it took me a while to think about it unless it was just still the shock of rides being available -- I decided to go for it and take a ride along with my pals Webster and Merkle. It was amazing. The ride of a lifetime. A dream come true. Because I hadn't planned on it, I didn't have a camera with me, and I didn't borrow one as I wasn't sure what it would be like during the flight and didn't want to risk wrecking Traci's camera. Here are some pictures on the ground, though:
On-ground Pictures of B-24J, The Dragon and His Tail, and B-17G, Nine O Nine, July 5th, 2004
Now it turns out that the B-24 and B-17 are owned by the Collings Foundation. Each year they take the planes on a tour of the country, stopping off at airports all over -- and offering rides. July 4th, 2005, they were back in Seattle (this time the B-24 was painted as Witchcraft) -- and I went for another ride. This time, Traci came with me, and I have plenty of pictures in flight.
In-flight Pictures of B-24J, Witchcraft, July 4th, 2005
B-17's are much more well-known by the general public than are B-24's. It is interesting to note, though, both aircraft were the pillars of the US bombing campaign in WWII and that there were actually more B-24's built than B-17's (18,000 vs. 13,000).
by Brooke P. Anderson
Click here to go back to the main page.