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Lots of memories for vets as B17 bomber visits North Bay

'I've never seen anybody get off that plane without a smile on their face'
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The old girl sits proudly on the runway at Jack Garland Airport. Her chrome-like skin glistening brilliantly in the noonday sun.

The engines roar and the fuselage shakes, but it's a gentle tug, not a violent pull that sends the World War II B17 “Flying Fortress,” bomber called Sentimental Journey down the runway and into the clear blue sky.

Reporters sit in tiny webbed seats, the interior is sparse with wires and machine guns. It's not built for comfort.

See: Ever dream of flying in a legendary warplane? Here's your chance!

Also flying today are three World War II veterans...one, former Flight Sgt. Bill Andrews of North Bay, takes a familiar seat, behind the radio.

Memories came flooding back.

"It felt a lot like wartime except nobody was shooting at us," he says recalling his days as a wireless air gunner on a B24 Liberator, a plane very similar to the B17.

Andrews did a tour of operations, 12 hour flights, putting in 300 hours of flight time and when the four B17 engines roared to life today, he recalled those experiences vividly.

"I recall setting off on a mission somewhere. We didn't sit in our seats we all got down on the floor."

Tension would fill the air, he says.

"We were going to shoot at people and drop bombs on them and they were going to shoot back. There were two WAG's (wireless air gunners) on board and we traded places back and forth...four hours on the radio and the other guy did four hours in the gun position."

There were lots of times he felt afraid for his life, "Every time I got into the airplane," he chuckles 

Andrews recalls a lot of his flight time was spent bombing bridges in Asia.

"The Japanese were building a highway up into China through Burma and there were a lot of bridges and rivers to cross. So our main job was, as fast as they could build the bridges, we'd take them out."

Ground commander Ed Campbell says flying veterans like Andrews is very special to the crew.

"One of the things we do is talk to everybody about the veterans' contributions so when they come visit us, we're tickled pink. That's what this thing's all about." 

The bomb bay doors are covered in signatures, sort of a hall of fame, where veterans that have a special connection to the aircraft sign their names.

The plane is one of the most iconic airplanes from World War II. The British also flew the B-17 during the war in Europe. Canadians flew as crew and pilots on the B-17 as well.

Campbell says the plane attracts plenty of people who are just plain curious, people who are history buffs, or wonder what riding in a vintage bomber is like.

"I've never seen anybody get off that plane without a smile on their face. It goes from absolute elation to tickled pink. People are thrilled to get on the airplane because this is something they don't get a chance to do. This particular airplane...there may be 10 in the entire world that are still flying. It's a pretty rare opportunity so it's a bucket list item."

You can cross this item off your bucket list this week.

The Flying Legends of Victory Tour is making a stop at North Bay's Jack Garland Airport from now through Sunday, July 9 as part of its summer tour across the U.S. and Canada.

Dates and times:

  • Tours:  Monday, Friday – Saturday: 2 pm – 6 pm; Tuesday – Thursday: 9 am – 2 pm;
  • Rides: Friday – Sunday: 10 am – 1 pm.

The tour cost is $5 per person and $20 for a family of four.

Seats are $425 USD per waist compartment seat and $850 USD for bombardier/navigator seats in the nose and are limited to eight passengers per flight.

Ride reservations are required. To reserve your seat, visit http://bit.ly/NorthBayON.




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