There’s something different about the B-17 Flying Fortress.
The World War II-era bomber is imbued with a mystique unlike almost any other airplane, said Nancy Kwiecien, the executive officer of the Commemorative Air Force’s Gulf Coast Wing.
Kwiecen accompanied the group’s B-17, dubbed Texas Raiders, to a tour stop at Centennial Airport from Sept. 16-18, where guests could crawl around inside the plane — and a lucky few took to the skies in the old warbird.
“She’s just such an extraordinarily elegant, eye-catching airplane,” Kwiecien said of the plane’s appeal. “Then there’s her reputation — sturdy, reliable. This is the plane that would bring you home.”
For many of the guests, Kwiecien said, there’s also a personal connection, as many had family members who flew aboard B-17s in the bombing campaign that helped break the back of the Nazi war machine.
“We’ve been blessed to meet several surviving B-17 aviators on this stop,” Kwiecien said. “There aren’t many of them left.”
Texas Raiders was built in the final months of the war, and never served in active combat, Kwiecien said, serving instead as a radar plane in the Korean War era and later in the private sector as a seismic monitoring platform.
The CAF bought it in the 1960s and painstakingly restored it to appear as one of thousands of combat bombers that once darkened the skies over Europe.
“It’s important for young people, who increasingly have no direct connection to the Greatest Generation,” Kwiecien said. “This is history you can touch.”
Flying aboard the plane was an emotional experience for Durant Carpenter, of Centennial, whose father was a radio operator aboard a B-17.
“While we were in the air, I was just staring at that radio man’s seat, and thinking of dad sitting there, tapping out Morse code,” Carpenter said after the flight.
He was joined on the flight by his 12-year-old grandson Kaytum, who said the experience “was like we were back in World War II.”
For aviation fanatic James Carr, 11, simply seeing the plane in person was a dream come true.
“It’s just the coolest airplane I’ve ever seen,” Carr said. “It’s my favorite. I didn’t know if I’d ever see one in real life.”
For pilot Len Root, flying the B-17 is more than an interesting gig — it’s a deep honor.
Root recalled a tour stop in Texas where a guest gave him a bear hug, saying the plane’s visit finally broke his father’s decades of silence about his experiences aboard a B-17 in the war.
“He told me if we hadn’t brought this plane out, he may never have had that connection with his dad he’d wanted for so long,” Root said. “That’s what this airplane means to people.”
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