Flying high above Gwinnett County in the nose gunner seat and navigating between dummy bombs in a 74-year-old Boeing B-17G bomber gave Loganville resident Paul Branson a new outlook on what it was like to be on a bomber crew during World War II.
To get from the back of the plane, where Branson was located during takeoff, to the nose gunner seat at the front of the plane, a person had to climb around a gun turret and through hatches, walk sideways through the tight bomb cargo area, and then crawl on their hands and knees to get into the nose gunner area.
And while that sounds cumbersome, Branson and other participants in a media flight on the plane Thursday at least had the luxury of doing it without being in a war zone.
“You can just imagine what it was like for those guys in World War II with people shooting at you,” said Branson, who was a child during World War II, but served in the Army from 1957 until 1961 and later became a private pilot. “This was tight. There’s a lot of climbing around and everything, and a lot of World War II planes were like this. It took a lot of maneuvering to get in and out (of the various parts of the plane).”
Lawrenceville-based Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 690 is hosting tours and flights of the vintage plane from Friday until Sunday at Briscoe Field at Gwinnett County Airport. Trips into the air on the plane are $475 per person, but ground-only tours are available for $10 per person and $20 per family. Veterans and active duty military personnel can do ground tours of the plane for free.
“One of the primary reasons we bring the aircraft in is it’s a source of revenue for the chapter, and we use those funds to support our youth programs,” said EAA Chapter 690 member Louis Pucci, who is overseeing the plane’s visit.
The plane, which rolled off the assembly line in May 1945 and just barely missed seeing any combat in the war, is owned by the national Experimental Aircraft Association, and it’s a rare example of the last bomber model that Boeing made during World War II, according to EAA pilot Lorraine Morris.
“They made 12,731 of these and this is about one of nine that’s flyable around the world,” she said. “It’s a way to salute veterans and it’s a way to keep history alive for all of the people who (were not alive during the war). It’s a way to come up and touch and feel it. Most everyone has a relative or a friend of a relative that served during World War II.”
And, like the bombers that did get to fly missions during World War II, this plane has a name — the “Aluminum Overcast” — and a picture of a beautiful woman painted on the side, near the cockpit.
Morris said that while the plane did not get to see any action during the war — Germany had already surrendered by the time the plane came off the assembly line and Japan surrendered later that summer — the plane did have some post-war use, including hauling fire ants, chickens and dressed beef around.
“It also was (used for) aerial mapping,” she said. “There’s camera holes in the belly that have been closed up.”
For some of the participants in Thursday’s preview flight, the experience was awe-inspiring.
“It’s an awesome airplane that carries so much history,” said EAA Chapter 690 member Kathy Parks, who joined the small number of reporters on the flight.
Meanwhile, Branson — who did maneuver his way around the entire plane during the flight — was like a kid in a candy store. After he got up to the nose gunner’s seat and surveyed the land passing by beneath him, he had a big smile on his face as he turned to let someone else check out the view.
“I flew jets most of my career,” Branson said. “I’ve flown in smaller airplanes with the radial engines like this, but never anything (this big).”
Pucci said anyone who is interested in touring the plane or taking a ride in it can come by the airport Friday through Sunday. They can also call the on-site crew at 920-371-2244.
The plane is parked next the Flying Machine restaurant, which is located at 510 Briscoe Blvd. in Lawrenceville. Flights will be done from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. this weekend, and ground tours will be available from 2 to 5 p.m.