Sunday, October 23, 2005

Aboard the Nine O Nine

I did something I've never done. I walked through a working B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. That's the Nine O Nine pictured above. It was at the downtown airport in Kansas City, Missouri today along with a B-25 Mitchell bomber. My six year-old son and I paid 12 bucks for a chance to see these historic artifacts of World War II.

We walked through the bomb bays on the cat walks, touched the .50 caliber machine guns, and generally marvelled at the machinery, like the ball-turret. It was tiny. I can't imagine anybody being stuck in there for eight to twelve hours.
We stood in line next to a WWII veteran flyer. This particular gentleman flew with the 94th in the war and got shot down on his 24th mission . He eluded capture and made to Switzerland with the help of the underground. He said it was the first time in 50 years he'd been this close to a B-17.

We climbed a metal step ladder into the front compartment under the cockpit. The nose area where the bombadier and the navigator were stationed was on our left. We moved on our hands and knees and toward the top turret. We stood up and looked into the camped cockpit. It was roped off to visitors, but we had an intimate view of the vast amount of dials, switches, and knobs. We checked out the ball-turret, a metallic globe in the floor of the airplane with all kinds of mechanical protuberances. We tiptoed through the bomb bay, and lounged in the spacious radioman's desk area. You could lay down in that compartment. The twin .50 caliber machine guns in the rear were harnessed but they had ammo in place and bombs in the bomb bay. We exited through a door in the rear on the right side. It was an amazing experience.

I snapped some pictures of my son in front of the plane. He wasn't crazy about standing in line in the bitter cold while we waited 20 minutes to get inside the airplane, but I hope someday that he'll cherish the memory, especially when these relics disappear for good.

Read more about the history of the Nine O Nine.

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