Green River Star -

By DAVID MARTIN
Publisher 

Historic warplanes visit county airport

 

David Martin

B-17 bomber Sentimental Journey touches down at the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport Monday morning.

Residents of Green River and Rock Springs were treated to an unusual sight in the skies Monday morning.

Two World War II warbirds flew through the skies on their approach to the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport, the sun reflecting off the polished metal fuselages and their engines announcing their visit long before they could be seen. When they landed at the airport, a small group of people had already gathered to get a closer look at the flying museum pieces.

The planes, the B-17 bomber Sentimental Journey and the B-25J bomber Maid in the Shade will be at the airport until July 12 as part of the Flying Legends of Victory Tour hosted by the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum. Both planes are incredibly rare, The B-25J is one of 34 still flying out of a production run of nearly 10,000 while the B-17 is one of five still flying out of a production run of nearly 13,000.

Ken Martin, a mechanic who works with the commemorative museum, said both planes were produced in the final years of the war. Sentimental Journey was built in November, 1944 and flew missions in the Pacific Theater while Maid in the Shade was built in early 1944 and flew 15 combat missions in Europe.

For copilot George Madok, the opportunity to fly a B-17 is a lifelong dream come true. Madok was been a pilot since 1981 and has been a part of the commemorative air force for the last seven years. He said he was interested in World War II as a child and collected and built models of the aircraft used in the war, including the B-17. Madok said flying a B-17 is much different than flying a modern airbus and more enjoyable.

"This is way more fun," he said.

Martin said the B-17 is flown by using steel cables and muscle.

"This is 1940s high tech," Martin said.

Martin said the sheet metal used in fabricating replacement pieces is handmade and some shops still overhaul the engines and other mechanical equipment on the planes. One shop Martin mentioned, Anderson Aeromotive of Grangeville, Idaho, bills itself as having the largest World War II-era radial engine parts inventory on the planet.

The planes have visited the airport in the past as part of previous summer tours and the visits are something airport manager Devon Brubaker personally looks forward to.

"I'm an aviation nerd by every definition," he said.

He said the visits not only give residents a chance to visit the airport and see they work they've put into the facility, but also an opportunity to see a part of history up close and connect with the few surviving veterans of the war.

The living museum

While the planes are fully operational, they're also reminders of the war that ultimately shaped the geopolitical landscape of the past 75 years -- examples of the industrial might that made the United States into a global superpower.

"(The Sentimental Journey) reiterates the last war we won," Martin said. "I didn't have to learn German or Japanese."

A part of the history can be seen in the signatures of veterans inside Sentimental Journey's bomb bay doors. Madok said veterans of the war and former B-17 crew members signed their names on the doors after visiting the aircraft. Some contain messages to other vets and soldiers, others list a person's service duration.

One of Madok's favorite aspects of the tours is talking to older teens about the flight crews B-17s would have. mainly comprised of men in their late teens and early 20s. He said he can always spot the moment they realize while they're finishing up high school or preparing to go to college, men the same age were fighting in World War II.

"It's a means of connecting the past and the present," he said.

That connection can sometimes be too strong for some people, as Madok said one man whose father was a B-17 copilot was unwilling to sit in the copilot's seat because of the emotions that would have come with it.

"It's a living museum," Martin said.

 

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