As two World War II bombers landed at the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport, a small group of residents looked on in awe.
Shortly after landing, those who were at the airport had a chance to walk around the planes and get a closer look at the bombers.
It’s hard to believe that right in front of them were the iconic World War II B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-25 Mitchell, which arrived at the airport Monday morning. The Flying Legends of Victory Tour conducted by Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona, made their way from St. George, Utah, to Rock Springs. This is just one of the places these two planes will stop on their 2020 tour, which usually goes through September. Sometimes the planes travel together and other times they are either with another plane or flying solo.
The Flying Legends of Victory Tour is often called a flying museum and the B-17 Flying Fortress Sentimental Journey is one of only five currently flying in the world out of over 12,000 manufactured for combat during WW II, according to the Commemorative Air Force’s (CAF) website.
After the war, the B-17 flew for training, testing, at-sea rescue missions and was eventually sold for surplus and used as a fire bomber, the website states. In 1978, the aircraft was purchased by a CAF member and donated to the newly formed Arizona unit.
“This is about as old school as you get,” B-17 copilot George Madok Jr. said.
The B-25 Mitchell “Maid in the Shade” was built in early 1944. This plane is only one of 34 B-25s still flying even though nearly 10,000 were produced, the website states. The B-25 was mainly used as a low altitude strafe and skip bomber. It was also used in America’s first large-scale bombing offensive in the Philippines, where it sunk eight ships and shot down five planes.
Pilot Ken Martin said he repairs the planes and all of the sheet metal is hand made. He said the B-25 had different missions than the B-17. Usually, the B-25 was trying to shoot out railroad tracks and bridges. He said this way they could stop supplies, such as gas, from reaching the enemy.
Martin and Madok both agreed the flight from Utah to Rock Springs was a beautiful one especially when they flew over Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.
No matter where they fly to, they always enjoy the reactions from residents. They said to meet a WW II veteran is getting more rare, but they frequently meet children and grandchildren of WW II veterans. Madok said he also likes to ask high school students how old they are and if they say 18, he explains to them they could have been a crew member on one of these bombers and serving in the war at 18.
Madok also enjoys telling tour attendees about the history of the planes. He said a lot of them have seen these types of planes in pictures or in a museum, but they’ve never had the chance to see one still operating let alone fly in one or touch one.
For Madok, flying the airplane is special. Martin agreed saying it’s a nice way to spend his retirement.
“Obviously, flying the airplane is a dream come true,” Madok said.
Names on the Plane
Some of the history to these bombers is in the making.
Madok explained the names written on the bottom of the plane are from those who flew, helped build, or served in one of these types of bombers during the war.
Names from all over the country are on the B-17 and some have in-depth information about which missions they flew on, thus creating even more history on the already iconic planes.
Rides and ground tours may be purchased for both planes. The public can experience a Living History Flight in a fully restored B-17 or B-25 Bomber on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, July 10-12.
Both aircraft will be open to the public for ground tours Tuesday-Thursday from 9 am–6 pm and Monday, Friday-Sunday from 2-6 pm. To schedule a ride, book online at www.azcaf.org/tour or call 480-462-2992.