By Donna Beth Weilenman
Whether the “Aluminum Overcast” is on the ground or taking to the air, the silvery body of the mighty “Flying Fortress” lets observers see how the warbird got its name.
One of only 13 surviving B-17s that are still flying, the Aluminum Overcast, operated by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), is making a stop today at Buchanan Field in Concord.
Those interested can take a flight aboard the vintage airplane, which will be taking off at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. noon and 1 p.m.
Ground tours also are available.
An EAA spokesperson called the plane “an icon of the Allied strategic bombing effort that helped turn the tide of battle in World War II.”
Those joining for the flights, which the association calls “missions,” give visitors a chance to board a 65,000 plane, strap in as did B-17 crewmembers did 60 years ago as the Flying Fortress takes off, then stand or sit where the bombardier, navigator, radio operator and waist gunner placed themselves during actual combat missions.
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress primarily was used in Europe in World War II, and B-17s from the Eighth Air Force based in England, participated in countless missions, according to information from EAA.
Those missions lasted for eight hours or more, and targeted sites deep within enemy territory. Because they were capable of such long-range flights, formations of B-17s often flew into battle with no fighter escorts, although some missions teamed the B-17s with such fighters as the P-51 Mustang.
During World War II, the B-17s were among the most modern of American aircraft. But as jets and other technological advances entered aviation, the mighty bombers were considered obsolete, and many were cut up and sold for scrap. Others found jobs in Air Force research and some were sold as surplus planes.
Creation of the B-17 began in 1934, when Boeing Aircraft Company in Seattle, Wash., started work on a four-engine heavy bomber, initially calling it the Boeing Model 299._
Its first flight was July 28, 1935. Pleased with the result, the U.S. Government ordered 13 of the planes, with the first production models delivered between January and August of 1937.
Various designations, depending on specific improvements made during its 10-year production span, ranged from YB-17 to B-17G. But the bomber received its most famous nickname, Flying Fortress, after a Seattle reporter used it as a commentary on its defensive firepower.
Before production ended, the final model, B-17G, was made in larger quantities, 8,680, than any previous model, and many consider that model the definitive version.
The B-17 had 13 .50-caliber machine guns in chin, top, ball and tail turrets. The plane also carried waist and cheek guns. Unlike what they saw with other bombers, crews often preferred the B-17 for its ability to withstand heavy combat damage and still bring its men home.
Of the 12,732 B-17s produced, 4,735 were lost in combat missions. After dispersal and scrapping of the planes after World War II, fewer than 100 remain, and of those, only 13 are in condition to fly.
EAA offers memberships at various levels starting at $40 for individuals, and has chapters specifically for those interested in flying, planes, ultralight planes, aerial acrobatics, World War II and other vintage planes. In Contra Costa County, EAA has its Chapter 393 in Concord that meets at 6:30 p.m. the fourth Wednesday oif the month at the Airport Clubhouse, 200 Buchanan Field Road, Concord. Its chapter website is www.eaa393.org, and those interested in joining may email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other area chapters are Nos. 20, 1474 and 1232 in San Francisco, No. 639 in Half Moon Bay, No. 663 in Livermore, No. 167 in Napa, No. 1534 in Petaluma, Nos.338 and 62 in San Jose, 124 in Santa Rosa, 1268 in Sonoma, 1230 in Vacaville and 119 in Watsonville. Chapter 52 is based in Sacramento.
The cost to fly aboard the Aluminum Overcast is $449 for nonmembers and $409 for EAA members for thos booking the flights in advance. Walkup costs are $475 for nonmembers and $435 for members. Those wanting to be on the flights must check in at the B-17 trailer an hour prior to the scheduled flight time.
Ground tours, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. today, are $10 for individuals and $20 for families.
Costs for the flights and tours help cover maintenance and operation expenses of the aircraft and the association’s work to keep its vintage airplanes flying. Those interested in the work being done by the Experimental Aircraft Association in its Oshkosh, Wis., headquarters or its various may visit its website, www.eaa.org.