Onboard the B-17 Flying Fortress

Texas Raiders B-17 Flying Fortress

B-17 Flying Fortress. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Beautiful: The slow drone of four radial piston engines on a crystal clear November morning as I stepped back in time with this great warbird.

This morning, I drove out to a small airport north of Houston for a bucket list experience.

Flying in a B-17 is something I’ve wanted to do ever since crawling around in one with my Dad when we were at the Wings Over Houston air show over ten years ago.

Texas Raiders B-17 Flying Fortress

Texas Raiders B-17 Flying Fortress. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Radio desk B-17 Flying Fortress

I sat at the radio desk for take-off and landing. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Dad has always been a big WWII buff. He was a little boy during the war, and he lived with his grandmother in a big house on Jackson Avenue in New Orleans. In order to help pay bills, she had officers room at the house throughout the war. Dad said the officers would tell stories during dinner, and often, if he could catch time with them when his grandmother wasn’t around, he’s get fuller versions to the tales — you know how little boys love gory details. My great uncle Douglas flew B-25 bombers during the war, and Dad has a photograph of Douglas’s squadron flying over New York City.

Anytime a World War II film came out, Dad took me with him. Hope and Glory is a big favorite of his — he says the young boy is the age he was during the war. Dad watched the boys playing in the bombed out ruins of houses in London, and he said, “I would have been right there with them!” If you have not seen Hope and Glory, I highly recommend it. It’s a look at the Blitz through a impish boy’s eyes, and with it a reminder that even during the worst of times, life goes on, sometimes in very funny ways.

Sadly, Hope and Glory is not available for official streaming online  and the only second-hand DVD versions are ridiculously expensive. It can be seen here: Hope and Glory.

We went to see Memphis Belle when it came out in 1990. I loved this film, and have continued to feel this way about it, although I am keenly aware that the film is a fictionalization of the documentary of the same name. Watch the original documentary for accuracy; watch the film for good storytelling. I watched the movie again yesterday afternoon after coming home from my flight, and still love it. I’ve included links to the documentary and to the film trailer below.

Saving Private Ryan was a very big deal when it came out, and while we did not see it together, it was the topic of discussion for several phone visits. Then came Band of Brothers, my all-time favorite miniseries. I gave it to Dad for Christmas the year it was released on DVD. I felt very fortunate to have met a member of the WWII 101 Airborne during a Wings Over Houston airshow in the mid-2000’s. Charming man, and quite the flirt.

Over 12,000 B-17 bombers were built for World War II, but now only eleven of these aircraft are still flying. Houston is fortunate to have two of these airworthy B-17 planes in short driving distance: one is at the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston, and the other is owned by the Texas Raiders and is located at the David Wayne Hooks Airport in Spring, Texas.

Right waist gunner position in the Texas Raiders B-17

Right waist gunner position in the Texas Raiders B-17, flying over Lake Conroe. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

You can schedule flights in the B-17 bombers through both Texas Raiders and the Lone Star Museum, but typically only at airshows or other events. Check Texas Raiders or the Lone Star Flight Museum sites for scheduling information. Cost for my ride: $475. If you want either the navigator or bombardier seats in the nose of the plane, expect to pay nearly double.  I thought about this, but figured sitting anywhere on this warbird would be amazing. I took the radio operator’s seat, and I think I made the right call. Once the navigator and bombardier were seated, they had to stay there for the entire flight, while the rest of us roamed the plane once we were at cruising altitude.

I am not quite sure what I expected the flight experience to be like . . . I did think it would be much rougher. As we were given instructions before the flight, they said we would be able to walk around in the fuselage. In the catwalk over the bomb bay doors, there were ropes to hold onto — and they warned us not to grab the cables — . Yeah, that would be bad, since those cables allow the pilot to control the rudder of the plane.

Oh, and if you drop something on the bomb bay doors, just leave it there. Since, I don’t know, the doors are designed to open with a 100 lb. weight. Check. I envision a middle-age women being dropped into a back yard in the suburbs. Hhmm. If this is a rough flight, maybe I should just stay seated . . . Yeah, no. This didn’t happen 🙂 — I crawled all over the plane. Even considered getting into the ball gun turret, but it was so tight, I think I’d still be in there.

Moving around in the bomber once we were up in the air was easy — the B-17 was very stable. I walked along the catwalk over the bomb bay doors to get up to the cockpit. No concerns. The pilots seemed to have everything in hand, so I headed back to the waist gunner positions. What great views!

Left waist gunner position B-17 flying fortress

Left waist gunner position on the B-17. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Short video of the flight:

I had such a great time with the Texas Raiders and their B-17. If you are thinking about taking a ride in a World War II airplane, I highly recommend this experience — not only was the flight amazing, but it’s great knowing that the cost of the flight helps preserve this Flying Fortress.

What’s next for me? Well, I’ll be watching the Texas Raider website for their 2017 schedule . . . and I’m thinking my next flight might be in their Navy biplane trainer, the Yellow Peril . . .

Navy Canary Bi-plane

Naval N3N, often called a Canary or Yellow Peril. Open cockpit biplane trainer built by the Naval Aircraft Factory in the 1930’s. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

If you have pictures, videos, or blog posts about WWII warbirds, please feel free to share them in the comment section below!

*** Lead image of the B-17 Flying Fortress, photograph, Ann Fisher.

Post publishing note: My ride on the B-17 was a form of time travel, and the connection for me was real and very meaningful. I’ve already had emails from several people saying they are thinking about giving one of these flights as a Christmas gift. To me, experiences like this are the most wonderful gifts you can give. I hope that my review of my flight on the Texas Raiders B-17 Bomber might convince you to give it a try!


Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

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38 Comments on Onboard the B-17 Flying Fortress

  1. What marvelous experience!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ann, thanks for sharing your story. I’ve flown in “Fuddy Duddy” and met with several WWII veteran B-17 crewmen from the 91st and 447th bomb groups at their reunions – what a treasured memory that was, getting to know them and listening to their stories. I stay in touch as much as I can with them, and have done research on plane crews and aircraft.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Richard Cooper // November 26, 2016 at 5:17 am // Reply

    I flew on the Collings Foundation’s “Nine-O-Nine” last summer. We paid $450 each. Once in flight, we could move to any place on the plane except the tail gunners and ball turret locations. I got to sit at at the bombardiers seat with the Norden bombsight. The whole experience was unbelievable! I can’t imagine what those guys went thought in WWII, 25,000 feet, super cold and on oxygen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Richard, Thank you so much for sharing this. I want to connect as many people as possible to warbirds near them, so if you have a picture of the Nine-0-Nine you’d like to share, please post it. I think I’m going to add a section at the end of my article with links to some of the other B-17 Bombers that people have shared with me.

      Like

  4. Ann, thank you for sharing your observations about your ride in the B-17. This is my all time favorite war bird. I’m biased as my father was a member of the 384th of the 8th. He was a bombardier in the B-17. He was shot down and spent 13 months in Stalag Luft 3. He did dictate his memories and we have them written down. The young men who flew these magnificent planes are heros and should never be forgotten. Thank you once again for your interest in B-17’s!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s my favorite as well. Is your father Robert Heine? If so, your uncle Charles posted his picture on the Facebook page for my blog. I figure it must be, between Stalag Luft 3 and the last name.

      Like

  5. Danny Hinton // November 22, 2016 at 9:02 pm // Reply

    Keep your eyes open for the Collins Foundation tour. Usually includes a B17, a B24, a P51 as the core aircraft. They tour the country every year. Great experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Danny, Thank you! One of the nicest things about writing this blog post is how many warbird enthusiast who have written to me, some here, and some on my blog’s Facebook page — with links to airworthy warbirds around the country. What a happy thing! Makes me think — road trip! I will find out about the Collins schedule.

      Like

  6. Luckey enough to fly out of Willow Run on a grand lady B17,take off and landing in the navigator seat. Sooo much respect to those who flew to protect our freedom: Thank You

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I took a ride in the B17 sentimental journey last summer from the commemorative air force out of Arizona. A spectacular experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Germanfromrussia // November 22, 2016 at 5:33 pm // Reply

    I flew on a B-17 several years ago, sitting in the radio operator seat for take-off. Once in the air, we could go anywhere in the plane except the ball turret and tail gunner positions. Crawling down into the navigator and bombardier spot and then watching the countryside through the Plexiglas nose was incredible. Mine flight cost $425. Note to all: Take ear plugs. Those four 1200 hp engines make a lot of noise.

    Like

    • Sounds like we had the same seat. If you have pictures — or importantly, the name of the B-17 you flew on — please share. I want as many people of different sides of the country to find opportunities to fly on these great planes.

      Like

  9. Very cool. A couple of weeks ago, I just happened to look up and see Doc, the newly airworthy B-29, land at Eisenhower in Wichita. I was able to get onto the ramp for some pictures.

    Like

    • James, if you’d like to share a picture of Doc the B-29 — that would be AMAZING. Is Doc just the second airworthy B-29? Fifi is the only one I’ve seen flying, so it’s so exciting to have Doc!

      Like

  10. omg you got to fly on a fortress. Did they let you shoot the guns 🙂

    Like

  11. Excellent post. Sounds like you had a great time on that B-17! It’s going to be one of those experiences that sticks with you for the rest of your life.
    If you’re interested in some Pacific B-17 stories, we have a bunch here: https://airwarworldwar2.wordpress.com/tag/b-17/
    For that matter, you might enjoy our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I http://irandpcorp.com/products/43bg1/

    Like

  12. how wonderful- great history great images!!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. How fascinating 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. What a marvelous post, Ann. So glad I first saw it on DBDO and followed the full story. You likely understand my fascination with historic aircraft. My dad was a retired airman with the USAAC so naturally we spent many happy hours building model planes, visiting air museums and attending air shows. Thanks for the memories! 😉

    Like

  15. Reblogged this on DREAM BIG DREAM OFTEN and commented:
    This is so cool!!

    Like

  16. COOLEST POST EVER!! Sorry about the yelling but this post is so cool!

    Like

  17. Wow… what a fantastic opportunity. I am very jealous of your experience and will have to see if there is anything like that available where I live… kind of doubt it…

    My grandfather flew a p-38 during the war and I have always been fascinated with aircraft from this time period…. jesh… now I may have to figure out how to fit in a trip to Houston… (and figure out how to talk my wife into it…)

    Thanks for sharing this… amazing.

    Like

    • It may be worth getting in touch with both the Lone Star Flight Museum and the Texas Raiders — just to stay in the loop with their air show schedule — and other possible events — for next year. I was very impressed with the organization of the Texas Raiders. I’m sure if you send them an email, you’ll hear back from them within a couple of days.

      P-38 Lightening — what an amazing plane. I’ve seen one at the air show here every year I’ve gone, so I know there are several still flying.

      And I’m sure you’ll figure out how to tell your wife that this would be a deep, amazing, important experience.

      Good luck, and all the best — Ann

      Liked by 1 person

  18. What a wonderful experience. I’ve always been fascinated with these birds. I briefly worked on C-130’s as a civilian and would oftentimes fantasize that I was on a 17. Luckily, I had the pleasure of touring one on the ground twenty five or so years ago. Thank you so much for sharing the experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I would love that.

    Liked by 1 person

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