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News > Restored B-17 Flying Fortress visits Albuquerque
Restored B-17 Flying Fortress visits Albuquerque

Posted 11/17/2006   Updated 11/30/2006 Email story   Print story


11/17/2006 - KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- By the summer of 1941, just six months after the construction of Albuquerque Army Air Base began, nearly 2,200 pilots, bombardiers and navigators arrived for training as part of the 19th Bombardment Group. After training, the flight crews headed out for duty in the South Pacific and the Philippines to serve in World War II.

The first prototype of the bomber was flown in 1935 and the B-17 went into service with the Army Air Corps three years later. Throughout the course of its 10-year production span, the B-17 underwent many improvements as new variations of the aircraft went into combat.

Though many lost their lives in combat with the B-17, it was known as a sturdy aircraft that could withstand heavy damage and still return its crew safely home. Roughly one-third of the B-17s produced into combat returned home after combat missions.

The B-17 is over 74 feet long and has a wingspan of nearly 104 feet. It is powered by four Wright Cyclone 1,200 horsepower engines. The aircraft was designed by Boeing and with normal racks could be fitted with 8,000 pounds of bombs. The Flying Fortress could fly 1,850 miles without refueling or could be outfitted with "Tokyo Tanks," which could extend range capabilities. Crews flew at near freezing or below freezing temperatures at a service ceiling of 35,600 feet with minimal cold weather gear.

Bob Hartman served as an instructor pilot on the B-17, logging more than 1,600 hours. He earned his wings at Roswell Army Air Field, N.M. in 1943. Sixty-three years later he says he is still amazed by the Flying Fortress.

"What fascinated me the most is that without computers and with somewhat limited knowledge of metallurgy and physics they created this amazing aircraft in the mid-1930s," he said.

Mr. Hartman was part of the first class of B-17 pilots to graduate. He later went on to be an instructor pilot on the B-29, the Superfortress, logging 900 hours. At nearly 88 years old, he still flies two or three times a week. He still has all of his original flight manuals and logbooks from togh the B-17 and B-29, along with photographs of his crews. "It would be kind of fun to see how I could do with it (the B-17) now," he said smiling.

Ed Ledbetter recalled the B-17s ability to withstand damage, though his plane, the Dynamite Express, was shot down during Mr. Ledbetter's first mission as a pilot. Mr. Ledbetter landed the disabled plane and he and his crew were taken as prisoners of war. He was just 20 years old at the time of the crash landing.

It was men like Mr. Ledbetter and Mr. Hartman who John Garcia, cabinet secretary of veterans' services, spoke of when he said, "These were very young men that climbed aboard this aircraft to save the world from tyranny and we need to preserve that memory."

More than 12,000 B-17s were built and approximately 100 B-17 airframes remain, but today there are only about a dozen that are still in flight.

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