Flying ‘museum artifact’: WWII warbird lands and takes off in Arlington
Air Force memorial crew members stand next to Sentimental Journey, a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, after the World War II bomber landed Monday at Arlington Municipal Airport in Arlington . (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
ARLINGTON — It’s 11:03 a.m. Monday morning and the Sentimental Journey is three minutes late.
Mike Mueller is looking at his phone to track his arrival, when Karyn King tells him to turn around as she points her camera at the blue sky above Arlington Municipal Airport.
The Commemorative Air Force’s B-17G Flying Fortress, in all its metallic glory, has arrived at the airport where it will remain next week for ground visits and air travel for those willing to spend. Of more than 12,000 built, it is one of only five such aircraft still in flight.
This one is in the best condition of the bunch, said Mueller, a CAF volunteer, donning his well-worn Sentimental Journey hat. He’s flown there dozens of times. It never gets old, he says.
Manufactured in 1944, the four-engined aircraft was delivered too late to see much combat in World War II. The Bomber, which takes its name from a song by Doris Day, served in a variety of roles until it was sold as surplus. He then spent years as an incendiary bomber, performing missions against forest fires across the country. The Commemorative Air Force’s Arizona Wing obtained it in 1978 and worked to restore it, according to the organization.
Nearly 80 years after it was built, the plane is still flying with Hollywood star Betty Grable on the side, looking over her shoulder. He’s now based in Arizona, but the summer heat is too much to fly, Mueller said. So the organization does the trick. Before Arlington, the Sentimental Journey stopped in Idaho and eastern Washington.
“It’s a working museum artifact,” said Robert “Rocky” Racoosin, another Commemorative Air Force volunteer. “It’s hard to beat something like that.”
And last week, the suicide bomber was in Seattle. There, a 99-year-old former pilot, Dick Nelms, signed the interior of the bomb bay, like many others over the years who have flown such a plane or worked on it as riveters. Nelms flew 35 missions, most of which he could recount as if it were yesterday, Racoosin said.
When the warbirds were flying around town, one or two World War II veterans would come to check out their old planes, Mueller said. But that has diminished as much of the larger generation has died.
“We want to keep the memory of this generation alive,” Mueller said.
Last year, one of Arlington’s B-17 Flying Fortress pilots died at age 98. Based in Foggia, Italy, Art Unruh has been credited with completing 50 assignments. A frequent lecturer at high schools and at the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum at Paine Field, he also wrote a book, “The Shadow Casters” about his experience.
The B-17 might not be the only bomber in Arlington this week. Barring issues with replacing its tires, a B-25 known as Maid in the Shade should arrive Thursday or Friday, Mueller said with her fingers crossed. This aircraft flew more than a dozen combat missions in late 1944 in Italy and Yugoslavia, according to the CAF.
Both aircraft will be available for ground visits from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Tours are $15 per person or $30 for a family of four. Reservations are not required.
And if you want to ascend 1,500 feet above ground for a 20-minute ride, rides are available Thursday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. nose. On the Maid in the Shade, it will cost $375 for a seat in the radio room and $590 for a jump seat.
Flights can be booked online at azcaf.org/location/arlington-wa-tour-stop.
From Arlington, the warbirds will head south to Salem, Oregon next week. Then they depart for Medford and two stops in California, in Hayward and Visalia.
King, an aerial photographer, was excited for the Sentimental Journey’s arrival here on Monday.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
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