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MASON CITY, Iowa - It was a ride worth the wait.
Rain and severe weather could not keep a good airplane on the tarmac. Just before 4 p.m., the weather cleared up and the pilots said it was safe to hit the skies. Everyone began to board the B-17.
"Eventually, this airplane will be much too valuable to even touch. It will be in a museum and you won't even get to get up and touch it. Now, you still can come out and fly it," said Rex Gray, one of the pilots of 'Aluminum Overcast', one of the few remaining Airworth B-17 bombers left. It was built in May of 1945, too late to see combat. Gray is humbled by the opportunity to get to fly this classic.
"It's kind of an honor and a privilege because of what this airplane has meant to our country and the people that have actually flew it. The young teenagers that flew it during the war."
When the 4 radial engines start up, it gets noisy real quick. There is no insulation or soundproofing inside the fuselage. It is not like flying on a modern airliner. You can hear the brakes squeak and see the control cables that move the rudder. Even a drop or two of rain will seep through the aluminum panels. It's hard to imagine what conditions would have been like during a combat mission.
"Even now, after all these years, it's kind of a ghostly feeling walking through the airplane and imagining being 19 or 18 and standing there scared to death on your 24th mission."
Karolyn Halverson and her family were anticipating the flight, she said, "It's going to be exciting. It's the first time I've ever been in anything like this before. So, we're looking forward to it."
'Aluminum Overcast' has many of the original features of a B-17 bomber, like the .50 caliber machine guns and a bomb bay loaded with (dummy) ordinance. During the flight, the most impressive views are from the bombardier's position in the nose of the plane and the gunner's turret on top. It is hard not to be awed by the experience.
"It was fabulous. It was just unbelievable for us to be able to ride in this airplane for pleasure and just think about how the Army guys were in here fighting a war," said Halverson.
The B-17 rides are available at the Mason City Municipal Airport until June 30th. You can book a ride through the Experimental Aircraft Association's website at https://www.eaa.org/shop/Flights/B17.aspx