B-17 bomber dating back to World War II making a stop in eastern Idaho next week
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POCATELLO – An airplane dating back to World War II will be in Pocatello next week and you’ll be able to see it up close and take a ride in it.
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, “Sentimental Journey,” will arrive at the Pocatello Av Center at 1483 Flightline Drive on Monday, July 12. Ground tours and flights will be available throughout the week.
The historic aircraft will be here as part of the annual Flying Legends of Victory Tour, which Co-pilot Brent Beck says, is a tribute to the men and women who built, flew and maintained the aircraft during a time of war in America.
“Most of the people who were young men and women at that time are now in their mid to late 90s and so … they’re rapidly disappearing,” Beck tells EastIdahoNews.com. “It’s a bridge of connection to show people from the current day the sacrifices people made back then to enable us to have the freedoms that we enjoy today.”
The B-17 bomber has been featured in many Hollywood films, such as “Memphis Belle,” in 1990, the Oscar-winning, “Twelve O’clock High,” in 1949 and the 2012 action drama, “Fortress,” which follows the crew of the bomber, “Lucky Lass,” as they fly in the campaign against Italy during World War II.
Beck says the B-17 was one of America’s first heavy bombers used in WWII. Only 12,731 were built at that time and were mainly used in bombing missions over Germany and throughout Europe.
“(U.S. and military leaders) wanted to avoid big land battles they had in WWI that turned into trench warfare and a meatgrinder, if you will, of casualties,” says Beck, “The thought at the time was, we can shorten the war and reduce casualties … and the scale and scope of what happens on the ground (by flying B-17s). Whether or not it was effective is an ongoing debate today.”
At that time, Beck says the army wanted a multi-engine plane that was durable. They originally wanted two engines but Boeing ultimately decided to give it four, which is one thing that makes it unique.
“The redundancy of four engines allows you to carry a bigger bomb load. It also allows you to absorb more damage,” he says.
Its 105-foot wingspan also made it a force to be reckoned with during air combat, but it also required a lot of oil and gas to keep it running.
This particular B-17 is one of only about five or six WWII-era bombers that still flies. Beck says it is a war surplus plane that wasn’t used until after the war was over. It was mainly used for search and rescue operations.
“They outfitted it with a big rowboat on the side,” Beck explains. “It would fly over a distressed aircrew and drop a life raft and supplies.”
Planes that were not used during the war were either sold or used for scrap metal. Most of the WWII-era planes that were sold, including this one, were used in secondary service. Beck says it was a fire bomber for a long time that helped fight forest fires.
In the 1980s, the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum purchased it and began restoring it to its original appearance. Many of the B-17 bombers on display in museums throughout the U.S. have been permanently grounded.
“The beauty of (this plane) is we can fly to you and show you what it looks like. You don’t have to go to a museum, you can come see it, you can hear it … and really get a sense of what it was like to be in that aircraft during WWII,” Beck says.
When he’s not touring in the B-17, Beck is a test pilot at Lockheed Martin in Palmdale, California. He grew up in Shelley and served an 11-year stint in the military. He first became interested in flying as a 9-year-old kid after attending an airshow at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah.
He also remembers checking out aviation videos from the Idaho Falls Public Library several years later. One of them was a short video about “Sentimental Journey,” the same plane he will be flying to Pocatello next week.
“I was very affected by that. It just made an impression on me,” Beck recalls. “About five or six years ago, I visited that museum, started talking to people and pretty soon, we’re talking about flying this airplane. It happened really quickly and I was shocked that it was even a possibility for me. It’s a tremendous responsibility to have the honor to fly it and that’s not lost on me.”
He’s looking forward to returning to eastern Idaho and showcasing the B-17 for people. Ground tours will be happening Tuesday, July 13 through Tuesday, July 20 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. The cost is $10 per person or $20 for a family of four. Tickets can be purchased at the gate.
Flights are available Thursday, July 22 through Sunday, July 25 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Flights start at $425 and can be booked online.