Friday, May 24, 2013

Despite Mutual Loathing, B-17 Bomber Owners and Crews Learn to Get Along

Here's an article I wrote a year or so ago for Smithsonian about the modern-day world of B-17 bombers and the testy relations their owners have with each other. Enjoy!

At the B-17 Co-op

Like bomber crews on 100-plane raids, today’s B-17 owners find strength—and survival—in numbers. 

By Brendan McNally 

Air & Space magazine, March 2012

Aluminum Overcast

 Aluminum Overcast was donated to the Experimental Aircraft Association after its owners found the restoration and maintenance costs too high. The EAA started touring with it in 1994.                                            Scott Slingsby 

USED TO BE, THE ONLY place you saw a Boeing B-17 was at an airshow or in a museum. But in recent years, the World War II bombers have become an increasingly familiar sight in the skies over American cities. Of the 10 that still fly, about half spend the year traveling from city to city and stopping over for a few days at various airports, where they invite the public to visit. The curious can touch the wings, run their hands over the fuselage, even come aboard and see what a vintage bomber looks like inside.
For about $425, they can buy a half-hour “flight experience.” The people who manage the bombers don’t like to use the word “ride,” because they say their purpose isn’t to entertain, but to educate. They want the public to understand what the bombers did and what their crews went through.

Owning a B-17 is extremely expensive. Hangar rental, maintenance, insurance—all run thousands of dollars a month, and that’s just to keep it on the ground. Once a B-17 takes to the air, the costs jump to thousands of dollars an hour. Only very wealthy individuals and organizations with energetic fundraising staffs can foot the bill.

But operating a B-17 requires more than wealth and a love of aviation history. It takes a certain type of personality. “That airplane demands so much of you that it forces you to be an alpha,” says Tommy Garcia, a civil engineer in Houston and board member of the Texas Armed Forces Historical Society who guided a number of B-17 restorations. Recently, success in operating a B-17 has one more requirement: realization that you can’t do it alone. That’s how the B-17 Co-op got started. To read the full article in Smithsonian Air & Space, click here.



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