Sunday, September 07, 2008

Aluminum Overcast

That's not a weather report. It's the name - albeit a strange one - of the B-17 bomber that visited Lafayette over the weekend.

First things first - I spent the morning volunteering at the Turn Indiana Blue festival. It was a beautiful day and there seemed to be a good turnout of people enjoying the bands, the activities, and the food. Everything went smoothly enough that I didn't have much to do from my spot at the information booth, so I made a lot of progress on the "Audacity" sock.

I had a good reason to be happy about being out insanely early in the morning (ok, 11 AM, but that's early for me). From my spot at Riehle Plaza, I could see and hear the B-17 as it made its flights.

And after my shift at the festival, the sock and I drove out to the Purdue Airport for a closer look.

There were a lot of people there, including a lot of veterans. I know there was at least one guy who'd been on a B-17, but he looked pretty wrapped up in his reminiscing, so I didn't bother him.

Getting on board wasn't easy, but the old guys managed it. It was sort of like caving in reverse, up a ladder to crawl through a short passage, until you could stand up.

The short passage led back to the bombadier's station. He'd start the flight on the upper deck, then come down here when they were close to the target.

Bomber crewmen had to be skinny guys. This walkway through the bomb bay was about as wide as a balance beam.

Here's a look up at the bomb bay and walkway - I'm standing on the ground for this picture. They probably wanted to be short. They were young, too - my friend Kerry's grandfather piloted a B-17 - at 19, he was the oldest person on board.

And they were a little bit crazy. This is the ball turret, which I've heard about before, but never seen. One guy would crawl down here for the duration of the flight, and hope he could get back up before the plane had to land.

He spent the flight hunched up like this, around his gun. If that's not bad enough, the crews mention that what came out of the relief tubes usually blew straight over the ball's windows, freezing there.

I won't post pictures of everything, but you can see it an online tour, and find out when the Aluminum Overcast will be near you. I'll throw in this one just to show that the sock got to go on the tour for free, and to illustrate just how much they've done to return the aircraft to its historical condition.

The visit made for a long day, because a lot of people in town wanted to see the B-17. But it was totally worth the wait.


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