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Vintage Bomber a Link to World War II Heroes

by on August 19, 2014 6:00 AM

The crew of the Sentimental Journey roared into State College late Monday morning, landing their historic B-17 bomber at University Park Airport.

They're on a mission to educate people about the plane's place in history and the heroic men who flew this type of aircraft in World War II.

The whole operation is run by volunteers who live and breathe the oily exhaust from the plane's four propeller engines.

Load Master Jerry Washburn is a retired IT executive who learned to fly at age 40. Now that he's semi-retired, Washburn says he spends about one month every summer touring with historic aircraft as part of a group known as the Airbase Arizona Commemorative Air Force (CAF).

"We have two bombers we take on tour -- this one and a B-25," says Washburn. "They're out about 26 weeks a year."

A crowd of about 30 people was waiting as the Sentimental Journey taxied up to the general aviation terminal. Many in the crowd had family members who flew bombers in World War II.

Russ Gilmore retired from his old job flying as a commercial pilot. When the CAF heard he had experience flying C-46s (an aircraft that's similar to the B-17), "They said come on out Russ -- We have a job for you," he quips.

He can't say enough about the pilots who flew during the war, usually at high altitude in unpressurized planes in sub-zero cold. Many of those flyers came back with frostbite. "Just incredible heroes, who flew these in combat and that's why we do what we do," he says.

The Sentimental Journey was built late in the war and was used mainly to fly rescue and reconnaissance missions over the Pacific. It was equipped with a boat that could be dropped to pilots who had been shot down. These days it's a flying museum.

The plane will stay at University Park Airport through Sunday, Aug. 24. You can tour the plane and even go up for a ride.

Tours are  open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 19, to Sunday, Aug. 24. CAF pilots and flight crew members will be on hand to answer questions. Flights, which start at $425 per person, can be booked by calling (602) 448-9415.

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

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Steve Bauer is Managing Editor & Chief Content Officer at StateCollege.com. Steve and his wife Trina are longtime area residents. They reside in State College along with a wacky Golden Retriever named Izzy. You can e-mail Steve at Steve.Bauer@StateCollege.com and you can follow him on Twitter @SteveBauerSCcom
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