The historic B-17 Sentimental Journey flew into town Monday, prior to this weekend’s fifth-annual Tribute to Aviation.
On hand to greet the plane were several veterans and B-17 aficionados, among them, Zack Browning, 14, of Montrose. “It’s my favorite plane in the world and I wanted to see it land,” Browning said.
He brought along a model B-17 he had made and that the crew of the Sentimental Journey was signing for him. Browning’s great-grandfather was a bomber in a B-17 for the British, and that sparked his interest.
James Bingham of Montrose, who grew up watching this plane, also turned up for its arrival Monday. Twenty years ago he lived in Mesa, Arizona, where the Sentimental Journey was being rebuilt. He remembers the test flights. “You could hear it start up and my wife and I would run down the street so we could see it taking off on the runway and fly overhead. The B-17 is the crown jewel of the whole military operation,” Bingham said.
A five- person crew brought the B-17to Montrose: Jim Kimmel, pilot; Jim Dennison, co-pilot; Mike Young, loadmaster; Mike Garret, loadmaster and Mike Critchell, crew chief.
“It was a beautiful flight in, and at 11,000 feet elevation, we were all grateful for our flight suits, it was pleasantly cool,” Kimmel said.
The crew took the plane for a couple of flyovers before landing at Atlantic Aviation, where the waiting crowd could tour the plane and meet those on board.
Kimmel shared some of the history. “The 50-caliber cartridge belt used in the aircraft is 9 yards long, so when someone says ‘I gave it the whole 9 yards,’ that means they unloaded the whole belt,” he said.
Prominent on the reconstructed plane was 1930s pin-up Betty Grable. Dr. Dick Manhart, a local aviation enthusiast who helped bring the B-17 to Montrose, said “special permission had to be gotten from Betty Grable’s husband, Harry James, to allow her to be on the nose.”
Manhart also said that this is the “most original reconstruction of a B-17 that there is out of the approximately 50 that are still in existence. It is a piece of flying history.”
“Sentimental Journey” came off the Douglas assembly line in late 1944 and served in the Pacific, according to provided information. After the war, it was transferred to Eglin Field, Florida for service as an air-sea rescue craft and in 1959 went to military storage at David-Mohan Air Force Base in Tucson. It was then sold to a California corporation for service as a borate bomber, flying thousands of sorties against forest fires throughout the country.
In January 1978, at the formation of the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, the announcement was made of the donation of the B-17 to the Commemorative Air Force for assignment to the Arizona Wing. It was then disassembled, and painstakingly restored to original World War II configuration.
“Sentimental Journey” is displayed from late fall to spring each year at the hangar before it leaves on summer tour. The plane now visits an average of 60 cities and towns across the United States each year as a patriotic and educational exhibit.
Flights on the plane can be purchased by calling 480-462-2992. To sit in the nose is $850 per person and for the cargo area, it is $425 per person. Tours of the inside are $10 per person or $20 for a family of four or more.
The Tribute to Aviation takes place on Saturday and Sunday at Montrose Airport, featuring dozens of military and private aircraft, in addition to the Sentimental Journey; food vendors and activities. Admission to the Tribute itself is free. Times are 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. both days. For more information, visit tributetoaviation.com.
Leslie Brown is the newsroom assistant for the Montrose Daily Press.