Sentimental Journey — Guest post by Lester Patrick
This summer the Penticton Flying Club hosted a very special visitor – the Sentimental Journey, a Second World War B-17 bomber also known as the Flying Fortress.
(Note: click on thumbnails to see large size photos)
Touring the Sentimental Journey brought back some childhood memories for me. My father was an airplane mechanic with the Canadian Forces in the Second World War in England. He never saw any fighting in Europe, but I remember many stories from his wartime days at the air force bases. He repaired British Hurricane Hawks, Spitfires and American P-51 Mustangs. As fate would have it, my father met my English mother while overseas and they were married near the end of the war. I guess you could say there is a special bond linking our family to WWII aircraft.
I did not know what to expect when I first drove out to the Penticton Airport to view Sentimental Journey. As I made my way toward the exhibition I was awestruck by the large silver bomber on display. It was a stunning sight and I took photo after photo cherishing every moment as I came face to face with a living piece of history.
The Sentimental Journey did not roll off the assembly line until 1945. Too late to see action in Europe, the Sentimental Journey was stationed in the Pacific, participating in maritime patrols mapping coastlines and conducting search and rescue operations. A small boat was attached outside the bomb bay so if an airman or sailor was spotted in distress the crew could drop the boat and radio for assistance.
The Sentimental Journey is only one of ten flying B-17s in the world. The B-17s rolled off the assembly lines in 1935 and saw action in Europe bombing German military and industrial targets toward the end of the war. The B-17 bomber’s empty weight is about 16,000 kilograms. It has a wingspan of 31 metres and is about 23 metres long. The cruising speed was 270 kph and a top speed of 486 kph with a range of 6,035 kilometres consuming 757 litres of fuel per hour. The Flying Fortress is equipped with a bomb load of up to 363 kilograms and thirteen M-2 Browning machine guns located in the top turret, the undercarriage, the sides, and the very rear. Two pilots are required to fly the aircraft and it seats eight passengers and two additional crewmen.
Learning these statistics surprised me. When I went on board I could not get over the tight quarters. I am not a big person but even I had to walk gingerly along walkways and squeeze myself up into nooks and crannies to try and take pictures. The seating areas were small, especially at the rear where the tail gunner sat. I tried to imagine myself jammed in that tiny space defending attacks from airplanes sneaking up from behind during a dark, cloudy night over Europe. The waist gunners inside the plane had more room to move but they were equally as vulnerable. Indeed, it was reported that their life expectancy was among the shortest of all the crew members. It was a challenge making my way through the airplane on the ground. I imagine no one did much moving about in the aircraft as it flew thousands of feet over wartime Europe.
Sitting inside the B-17 I thought of the sacrifices the young men made. A mission took the men up to 30,000 feet and temperatures dropped as low as minus 45 Celsius exposing many of the crew members to frost bite on their faces or any place there was exposed skin. Although the Flying Fortress had a reputation as being a potent, high-flying long range bomber, I thought of the young men trying to defend their temporary home in the air in those cramped quarters under such extreme conditions. I wondered how many survived and how many were killed or wounded. I wondered what went through their minds as they took off from the air force bases in England. To be honest, I could not comprehend the sheer bravery it took for those men as they risked certain death flying those long and treacherous bombing raids over Germany.
The Sentimental Journey is now based at based at the Commemorative Air Force in Arizona and tours Canada and the United States giving the public the opportunity to tour the bomber and learn its history.
*Other Facts: Sentimental Journey is named after Doris Day’s #1 hit in 1945. The model on the Sentimental Journey is Betty Grable. Her bathing suit poster was the most popular pinup poster during WWII.
L.M. Patrick writes supernatural and spiritual fiction (http://lmpatrick.com/) and blogs at “Alive at 50 – A Survival Guide to God” (http://lmpatrick.com/blog/). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org