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Historic World War II Plane to Stop in Happy Valley

by and on August 18, 2014 9:25 AM

One of the last World War II Boeing-17 Flying Fortress bombers will soon spread its wings over Happy Valley.

The Airbase Arizona Commemorative Air Force's (CAF) B-17, Sentimental Journey, is scheduled to arrive at University Park Airport at noon on Monday, Aug. 18 and stay through Sunday, Aug. 24.

A static display and cockpit tours of the aircraft will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 19, to Sunday, Aug. 24. CAF volunteers, as well as pilots and flight crew chiefs, will be available to answer questions.

The first B-17 prototype was manufactured in the mid-1930s, but later models continued to see improvements to enhance the plane's combat abilities. Most were used in the United States Eighth Air Force in Europe.

"The B-17 is well known for its ability to sustain heavy battle damage and remain flyable," says tour coordinator Dave Gross. The B-17G models, the last produced, were equipped with a chin turret and staggered waist gun placements with Plexiglas, unlike its earlier siblings, he says.

Sentimental Journey, a B-17G, was manufactured in 1944 and became part of the United States' Amy Air Force fleet in 1945. The aircraft served in a military capacity in the Pacific until 1959 when it was put in storage for a short period of time and then used as a forest fire fighter. In 1978, the aircraft was donated to the CAF. Today, it's maintained and operated as a flying museum and veterans' memorial.

"It's an honor to be able to fly it throughout the country," says Russ Gilmore, Sentimental Journey pilot and chief operating officer of the CAF. "But it's not about us." By us, Gilmore is referring to the nine other members that make up the crew. The Sentimental Journey, he says, is a tool to be able to tell the story and sacrifice of the heroes who fought in World War II.

Gilmore says he's been with the CAF for about 20 years. A self-proclaimed World War II history buff, he previously flew a Curtiss C-46 Commando in the early 70s with three airlines. Once the CAF heard about this, they approached Gilmore about flying for them. In the flying business for more than 42 years, Gilmore retired from his positions as a captain and check pilot for several major airlines on a Boeing 757.

The CAF is a nonprofit organization with more than 400 volunteers, including Gilmore. Most people in the organization have a connection, usually familial, with the plane.

What most people don't know, Gilmore says, is that the United States Army Air Force lost more men than any other division in World War II. This was due to being in combat as well as the low temperature in the high altitude.

Small two plug sockets can still be seen in the plane today, Gilmore said, that were used during the war for crew members to plug in their electric flying suits.

"It was a tough duty," he recalls.

The Sentimental Journey has been completely refurbished with new engines, safety features, radios and navigation systems. There's only a few B-17G's that are still in flight today, however, which makes Sentimental Journey so special.

While the Sentimental Journey has been touring the country for 37 years — longer than anyone else, Gilmore says — it's likely that it won't be back on the East Cost for another four years. Next year, it'll head back to the West Coast for tours there. While the aircraft previously stopped in Williamsport, Altoona, Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre and Reading, this is its first time in State College.

The Airbase Arizona Commemorative Air Force, located in Mesa, Ariz., began in 1978. The organization restores and preserves aircraft and related memorabilia to help educate the public on their place in history.

The visit is sponsored by the Ramada Golf Hotel and the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The Living History Flight Experience will be available to the public for the week the aircraft is in State College. Flights begin at $425 and can be booked with a ride coordinator by calling (602) 448-9415.

For more information about the CAF and Sentimental Journey, visit www.azcaf.org.

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


Brittany is the staff writer for The Centre County Gazette.
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