Beautiful skies and an appreciative crowd welcome the Sentimental Journey

 

Story by WNLP’s Beth Boardman; photos by WNLP’ Bob Wellinski

After a one-day delay caused by Mother Nature, the gorgeous B-17 bomber “Sentimental Journey” touched down with nary a tire screech Tuesday at the La Porte Municipal Airport. She got a warm round of applause and cheers from more than 100 people, many at the airport and some in cars parked alongside the nearest thoroughfares.

It was way back in February when airport Operations Manager Diane Schwarz called Mike Garrett, tour director for the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) at its base in Mesa, AZ. Dozens of conversations later, the Journey’s visit to La Porte was finalized.

The day could not have been more perfect for the plane’s arrival. A blue sky with wispy clouds turned into a blazing sunset that provided a perfect backdrop for the warbird. Before she landed at the airport, she thrilled other La Porteans with passes over the downtown area and the lakes. Then she buzzed the thrilled airport crowd before banking and returning to land.

The Sentimental Journey B-17 passes over LaPorte Municipal Airport.

 

Built in 1944, the Journey is one of only four B-17s out of 12,700 built that is still able to fly. (At the height of the war Boeing was cranking out 12 to 16 Flying Fortresses a day, thanks in part to the work of Rosies the Riveters.) The Journey never engaged in combat but flew missions in the Pacific Theatre toward the end of World War II.

During the war most B-17s fought in Germany and their 10-member crews (pilot, co-pilot, navigator, flight engineer, bombardier, five gunners) suffered high casualties inflicted by gunners in enemy aircraft and on the ground. One-third of B-17s were shot down, 1/3 were lost in training accidents elsewhere, and the rest made it through the war, said Garrett, an aerospace engineer who worked with major aircraft firms. After missions some planes that returned did so miraculously thanks to the skill of their pilots, landing in safe territory with gaping holes and missing parts. After the war many of the surviving B-17s were scrapped. “People didn’t want anything to do with them after the war,” Garrett said.

 

The pilot peers out the window from the Sentimental Journey B-17.

 

The Journey was rescued from a salvage yard and used by the U.S. Forest Service on the West Coast as a water bomber during fires, Garrett said. Eventually the plane was donated to the CAF and it became the all-volunteer organization’s first aircraft. “It took four years to get it back up flying again,” he said, after meticulous restoration fixed erosion and turned her back into a true warplane.

 

Photos show a damaged B-17 (upper left) and a soldier holding a shell.

 

Many veterans have visited the Journey, some of whom piloted or were crew members on B-17s during the war. Some have written their names and crew duties on the Journey’s bomb bay release doors. CAF volunteer crew member Bruce Cooper, a Hoosier and a biochemist at Purdue, led WNLP correspondents to the underbelly of the plane and pointed to those touching notes of living history. If you visit, be sure to read some of them.

 

Spectators were on hand to greet the Sentimental Journey B-17.

 

If you want to tour or take a flight on the aircraft before its departure this weekend, visit the La Porte Municipal Airport’s Facebook page, where information on times, days, fees and more are posted on a schedule there. Or call the airport at 324-3393. For more on the all-volunteer CAF and to donate, visit commemorativeairforce.org.

 

 

One Response to “Beautiful skies and an appreciative crowd welcome the Sentimental Journey”

  1. Chris Lehner

    Aug 13. 2020

    Great story Beth and beautiful pictures Bob of Sentimental Journey. I hope many LaPortean’s have the opportunity to walk thru or fly in this rare and iconic airplane. A once in a lifetime experience.

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