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.

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