Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Come fly with me

Aluminum Overcast on the ground in Mankato.
I remember as a high schooler how busy the airport I worked at got during the Experimental Aircraft Association airshow in Oshkosh. I refueled small airplanes at a small general aviation airport in Juneau, Wisc. (UNU, for you pilots), 26 miles from the airfield at Oshkosh. It was a great stopping point for pilots of every type of plane imaginable needing information before making their way up to the airshow. It was fun meeting people from across the country making their way to aviation's Mecca.

Each year, some of us from the airport would either rent a plane and go up for the day, or get in a car and drive up, both of which were a traffic nightmare. Our favorite part of the show wasn't necessarily the aerial displays, but the plethora of restored World War II fighters and bombers on display on the ground. P-51s, T-6s and the big, lumbering B-17 bomber. All of these classics were painstakingly restored to better than their original glory (fewer bullet holes and grease stains, I'd imagine). I even got to sit in the cockpit of a P-51 Mustang (but that's another story).

I remember seeing Aluminum Overcast sitting on the tarmac at OSH when I took my wife there in 2001, thinking it would be great to take a ride, but $400 wasn't in the wallet at the time, especially to spend on a half-hour plane ride. Fortunately, eight years later, I got the chance to ride in Aluminum Overcast on a half-hour flying over Mankato during the EAA's tour stop here. The plane has been beautifully restored and is used as a promotional tool for the EAA's restoration activities, and for the Oshkosh air show itself.

Me in the bombardier's seat on Aluminum Overcast. (John Cross)

I was a kid in a candy store. Too much to look at. Too much to photograph. Too much to ask of the former Flying Fortress pilots riding with us. I sat in the bombardier's seat, looked through the Norden bomb sight, imagined dropping 8,000 pounds of bombs on the Northstar Bridge. Then, after seeing a photograph of a B-17 crew on the table in the bombardier's compartment and the replicas of the .50-caliber machine guns sticking out the side of the plane, I imagined how scared these crews must have been, seeing German ME-109s shooting at them, with only some thin armor plating and a plastic bubble to protect them.

The Norden bomb sight.
All I can say is thank you to those crews, and thank you to the EAA for the opportunity to fly in a beautiful aircraft.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I've been shooting photographs for the Free Press for more than three decades now _ ever since Nov. 17, 1975 _ so it's inevitable that I find myself revisiting versions of stories we have done in the past.
Like the story Brian Ojanpa and I did about the St. Henry Catholic Church near Le Center celebrating its 150th anniversary that appeared in the July 6 edition.
We were the reporter/photographer team that did a story about the church for their 126th anniversary 24 years ago.
Relatively speaking, Brian and I are the the newsroom old timers, both coming to the Free Press in the 1970s. We like to think we offer what charitably might be referred to as "historical perspective" for our office colleagues.
During our original visit, I took several photographs including the one shown here. It kind of had an American Gothic feel to it and even 24 years later remains one of my favorites.
Brian had pulled out a clipping of the article and we speculated that it was highly unlikely that after more than two decades, any of the subjects were still with us.
We showed the clipping to the three parishioners who were there to be interviewed and they confirmed that all four gentlemen indeed had passed on.
When the interview was completed, I had to make a photograph of the three men to accompany our story. I chose to pose them inside rather than going to the front of the church.
For one thing, I am not inclined to go to same visual well I have visited before. For another, over the years, the trees that were saplings in the original photograph had grown into towering maples and now obscured the clapboard-sided steeple.
One of the best things about this job is the people we get to meet. Our visit to St. Henry was no different.
As we shook hands with the church members, they all suggested suggested that perhaps we'd return in another 25 years for the 175th anniversary.