Local vet rides B-17 for first time since World War II

Local vet rides B-17 for first time since World War II

September 29th, 2009 by Todd South in News

Allen Crawford remembers his 20th birthday well. It was September, 1944, and he was headed to war as a bombardier in a B-17 "Flying Fortress."

A few weeks later he was peering out of the glass bubble at the nose of the plane as it roared across the English Channel to destroy Nazi factories and military installations.

On Monday morning, Mr. Crawford sat in the same seat on another B-17, built 65 years ago, just months after he ended his 35th combat mission and returned home.

The "Aluminum Overcast," one of a dozen B-17s still flying, touched down at the Collegedale Municipal Airport just before noon Monday on a 23-city tour run by the Experimental Aircraft Association.

Pilot Rick Fernalld,cq a former U.S. Air Force B-52 pilot, flew the plane to Collegedale from Indiana.

"It's amazing the number of peoples' families who were touched by this plane," Mr. Fernalld said.

The plane's history touches not only veterans, but those back home who built them in factories, he said.

Mr. Crawford turns 85 this week and Monday's flight was his first on the plane since World War II.

The 15-minute flight brought back memories from a long-ago life - images of a football game on the landing strip before the crew left for England, of a crash during takeoff, of seeing planes on either side spiraling to the ground, missing wings or cut in half by enemy fire.

As bombardier, young Lt. Crawford sat for eight- to 11-hour flights in the glass bubble at the nose, scanning the skies and clutching the grips of twin .50-caliber machine guns.

In formation, the 36 planes of the bomber squadron flew with wings almost touching to increase the effect of bombs that poured out of the aircrafts' bellies, he said.

When the plane flew higher than 10,000 feet the crew donned rudimentary oxygen masks, but the moisture from their breath would freeze inside the mask. To get rid of the ice, he'd squeeze the mask with his hand, then pull it away to shake out the ice.

His wife, Amalia Crawford, said her husband reflexively grasped an oxygen mask he wore during a hospital stay last year and did the same thing.

Once within range of the target, the bombardier would account for wind, weather, speed, distance and a host of other factors to align the bomb sight mounted below him, Mr. Crawford said.

The drop required a steady eye amid explosions, falling planes and speeding bullets from enemy fighters.

"I always had a black ring around my eye from looking down the telescope," he laughed. "If those lines weren't coordinated - bombs adrift."