B-17 Flight


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Recently, my friend, Gus Genetti, asked if I wanted a complimentary flight in a B-17. Some question!! Gus is owner of Genetti Hospitality, operators of Genetti's Best Western in Wilkes-Barre, PA and two other properties. His brother Bill owns the Genetti Inns and Suites in nearby Hazleton. For some years, Bill has been a sponsor of the Collings Foundation's "Wings of Freedom". As part of this year's schedule, they were moving their B-17 and B-24 from Orange County, New York (MJG) to Hazleton, PA (HZL) and Bill had two tickets for the cross-country! It took me all of two nanoseconds to accept. Bill's other guest was Jake Broody, who had been a pilot instructor during WWII and who had been qualified in the B-17.

I was hoping to fly my own plane to HZL to start the adventure but the AM weather was pretty lousy so Jake and I left our pilot's club in my car. We were met at HZL by a limo and driver and John Dillman, a plane sponsor for the foundation. The drive to MJG was a long one and the rain caused us to wonder whether we'd be returning in the limo rather than a plane but our fears were unfounded and the luxurious limo made the ride a joy. We had quite a wait at MJG but hanging around an airport, especially where there was a B-17 and a B-24, is not exactly a hardship! There were only 5 cross country passengers so we were given a choice of aircraft. All 5 of us chose the B-17. The Liberator departed at 1:00 but there were two local trips scheduled for the '17 so we never departed until 2:30. By that time the weather had cleared up and it was a beautiful day for flying.

Before boarding, we were given a briefing. Of course, we had to be strapped in for takeoff and landing but we were told we'd pretty much have the run of the ship in flight and that they'd get us up as soon as possible and delay getting us strapped in as long as possible at the other end. The only places that would be off limits were the tail (because it was loaded with supplies) and the ball turret (for safety reasons). We could look over the flight crew's shoulder but were not to try to carry on a conversation with them. John, Jake and I strapped in on the floor in the waist and the other two pax did so in the radio room. I was glad we'd brought hearing protection as the noise in the waist would loosen your teeth! We were only a few hundred feet off the runway when we got the signal to un-strap ourselves and move around. I was concerned I wouldn't have time to experience everything but the 45 minute flight was certainly adequate (though it'd have been fine with me if had lasted for hours!) I felt distinctly like a kid in a toy store with all the toys available to play with!

Moving forward from the waist, the sequence is radio room/navigator's station, bomb bay, top turret and cockpit. Just between and below the pilot and copilot is a hatch in the floor that leads to the nose compartment. Every spot in the plane was fascinating but I think everyone's favorite is the nose. It's surprisingly roomy up there with room for 4 or 5 guys without feeling too cramped. Of course, the best seat is the nose bubble itself but people were good about sitting there for only a few minutes and then surrendering it to someone else. I think most of us sat there several times. For the most part, it's obvious this machine was built for skinny young kids, not overweight middle-aged men like me. The top turret was especially tight and I had as hell of a time getting into it but it was pretty nifty once in place. While the ball turret was off limits, that fact was largely academic for me as I think the only way to get me into it would be to cut me in pieces first! The trip through the bomb bay is also a pretty tight squeeze. Of course, the doors were closed but I can only imagine what it must have been like walking along the 6 inch wide walkway above open doors! I'm told the bombs would often freeze to their mounts so someone had to climb out there and kick them loose. Think about being over enemy territory, balancing on one foot on a 6" wide piece of metal, over an open hole, kicking a bomb with your other foot while lots of people were shooting at you! There's a hatch on the top of the radio room that they leave open in flight in good weather. At 160 kts., it was a tad breezy with your head out there but it sure was a nifty feeling!

All too soon, we were on base at HZL and got the signal to strap in. The whole trip took about 45 minutes and was flown at 2500 MSL. It was just about a perfect way to spend a day. My eternal thanks to Gus and Bill Genetti for the opportunity. You guys are GREAT!!!