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American History

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World War II B-17 Flying Fortress - Aluminum Overcast
by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz
2017

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Anticipation was not a foreign feeling aboard Aluminum Overcast. Decades before in the upheaval of WWII, young men clad with weapons rather than smiles had likely been filled with fear-tinged anticipation for the flight ahead, the enemy who lay in wait, and the gravity of the mission at hand.

May 10, 2017 - A fully-restored B-17 Flying Fortress nicknamed Aluminum Overcast sits on the runway at the Olympic Flight Museum in Tumwater, Wash. Members of the media had the opportunity to fly on the historic aircraft and speak to veterans who either worked on, or flew the B-17 during WWII ... The B-17 had a crew of 10 men, a maximum speed of 287 miles per hour, and a maximum ceiling of 35,600 feet. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz)
May 10, 2017 - A fully-restored B-17 Flying Fortress nicknamed Aluminum Overcast sits on the runway at the Olympic Flight Museum in Tumwater, Wash. Members of the media had the opportunity to fly on the historic aircraft and speak to veterans who either worked on, or flew the B-17 during WWII ... The B-17 had a crew of 10 men, a maximum speed of 287 miles per hour, and a maximum ceiling of 35,600 feet. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz)

Members of the local media were given a larger-than-life history lesson when they flew aboard the fully restored B-17, May 10 in Tumwater, Washington, and spoke with WWII veterans who either worked aboard, or piloted the aircraft during its heyday.

Despite the harrowing circumstances, many of these veterans welcome the idea of embarking upon the Flying Fortress once again, as if being reunited with an old friend.

“In combat it was always a blurred line between being excited and being afraid,” said 94-year-old Dick Nelms, 447th Bombing Squadron B-17 pilot. “It’s just exciting to see this aircraft today, knowing I’m going to fly in it again.”

According to the Liberty Foundation, B-17s dropped more than 640,000 tons of bombs on European targets and downed more enemy aircraft per thousand raids than any other aircraft in the United States’ arsenal, making it the champion of the American aerial campaign during WWII.

May 10, 2017 - A fully-restored B-17 Flying Fortress nicknamed Aluminum Overcast flies over the skies of Olympia, Wash. The B-17 had 13, 50-caliber M2 Browning machine guns for defense. The long range capabilities of the B-17 meant they would often fly missions without fighter plane escort. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz)
May 10, 2017 - A fully-restored B-17 Flying Fortress nicknamed Aluminum Overcast flies over the skies of Olympia, Wash. The B-17 had 13, 50-caliber M2 Browning machine guns for defense. The long range capabilities of the B-17 meant they would often fly missions without fighter plane escort. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz)

Even so, the cost of victory was high. Of the 12,732 B-17s produced between 1935 and 1945, 4,735 were lost in combat.

“I flew to Berlin [Germany] three times,” Nelms said. “I watched B-17s being shot down, many of them carrying my friends. We had to learn to control fear, and I did. That’s why I’m able to sit here and talk to you 74 years later.”

While millions of men like Nelms were serving a grateful nation in Europe, women on the home front were fighting the good fight as well.

“I bucked rivets in ’44 while I was in college,” said Betty Lausch, who laid eyes on a fully-operational B-17 for the first time May 10. “My husband worked on B-17s during the war, but I haven’t seen a completed one until now. It’s better than anything I could have imagined and I’m so grateful for the chance to fly in it.”

For many, the B-17 is not just an aircraft, but a symbol of the generation who carried the United States through one of its most turbulent eras with unwavering resolve.

May 10, 2017 - A 77-year-old B-17 nicknamed Aluminum Overcast flies over Olympia, Wash. During WWII, the B-17 had a crew of 10 men, a maximum speed of 287 miles per hour, and a maximum ceiling of 35,600 feet. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz)
May 10, 2017 - A 77-year-old B-17 nicknamed Aluminum Overcast flies over Olympia, Wash. During WWII, the B-17 had a crew of 10 men, a maximum speed of 287 miles per hour, and a maximum ceiling of 35,600 feet. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz)

“I’m glad it was these guys who were there to answer the call,” said Tom Ewing, present-day B-17 pilot. “The more you learn about what they were asked to do and what they did, the more you’ll understand why they are called the ‘Greatest Generation’. These are true heroes and it is a very lucky thing that you see these men standing here today.”

As the Flying Fortress burst through the cloud bank and the Puget Sound came into full view through the glass bubble traditionally occupied by the bombardier, passengers couldn’t help but ask WWII veteran and B-17 crewmember, Fred Parker how one might ever get used to a view like that.

Parker didn’t miss a beat.

“You never get used to the view,” he said. “You stay scared.”

By U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2017

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