A Ride in the "Flying Fortress" - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

A Ride in the "Flying Fortress"

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© Darren Kirby © Darren Kirby
© Grant Brummett © Grant Brummett
© Grant Brummett © Grant Brummett

A piece of military history touched down in Fargo late Monday afternoon: The B-17G Flying Fortress Sentimental Journey is one of several vintage war planes on display this week at the Fargo Air Museum. 

When riding in a B-17, there's no better view than from the bombardier's station in the plane's nose - That was Mike Morken's vantage point during a slow and methodical flight Tuesday morning.

It was a chance to take a good look at the F-M area from above... and imagine what it was like for a squadron of these bombers back in the early- to mid-1940s to be flying much higher over a target with fighter planes looking to knock you out of the sky and anti-aircraft guns on the ground trying to do the same.

Ten men made up a crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress, and as you move around inside, you realize that each and every position - from bombardier to tail gunner - was a job with extreme danger.

"It's a great machine," World War II veteran Ralph Johnson remarked, "[but] I look at it, and I wonder how they let those kids fly in that thing."

For those airmen in their late teens and early twenties, their lives were on the line each time they flew into combat.

Stew Bass, 92, piloted a torpedo plane in the Second World War. He agreed: "It wasn't good. [...] You did your job, and that's what our job was. Some of us were lucky to get through it. Some of us were... it was a tough time, because it was heavy, heavy resistance."

Of the nearly 13,000 B-17Gs built during wartime, roughly half were destroyed during the war. Only 13 are still flying today, making this plane a living, flying museum. The people tied to Sentimental Journey remain committed to share its story and the stories of all those involved in the war. 

You wouldn't know that this B-17 is almost 70 years old, but keeping the plane in the air takes a lot of work. While the crew can bring some parts along, others are harder to find - so, when a tire was needed, a call went out to the home base in Mesa, Arizona. The tire was shipped to Minnesota and replaced before it was time to fly here to Fargo.

As the crew travels around the country educating people about the B-17, they too make amazing discoveries.  Just a few days ago in Rochester, Minnesota, 90-year-old Clarice Mitchella came forward to tell the crew she'd had a hand in building this plane; the crew allowed her to sign the bomb bay door.

For B-17 pilot Pete Scholl, bringing Sentimental Journey back to Fargo is a homecoming: The Minneapolis native graduated from Moorhead State and earned his pilot's license in Fargo.

Pete Scholl: "It's just kind of a focal point for a lot of really neat people. That's what's the main part of the fun."

Pete says, thanks to the dedication of the volunteers with the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) and a few modern upgrades, the B-17 continues to be a great plane to fly and a tribute to the spirit of all the men and women who have defended this country.

Sentimental Journey is part of the CAF Airpower History Tour at the Fargo Air Museum, and it's not the only historic plane making an appearance this week: Also expected Thursday is a P-51 Mustang, a T-6 Texan, and FIFI, the last flightworthy B-29 Superfortress in existence

Individual admission to the exhibit is $15. Family admission is $30. Children under six are free.

If you're planning on attending Thursday's RedHawks game, Sentimental Journey is scheduled to do a flyover during the game as part of Military Appreciation Night.

Interested in booking a flight of your own? You can find details here.
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