CEDAR RAPIDS — As Robert Clark, 95, took a few photos illustrating his service in World War II out of an envelope, he pointed to a small ball turret barely big enough to fit in. It essentially was his office while part of a B-17 flying crew.
“If something happens in there and they crash land, you’re like an egg,” he said. “That was my position. ... I was the little guy.”
Tuesday, he saw a B-17 ball turret for the 55th time. But unlike 53 of the previous flights that originated in England, his chance to fly again this time was at The Eastern Iowa Airport.
As part of a multicity tour, the Experimental Aircraft Association brought a restored B-17G Flying Fortress known as “Aluminum Overcast” to Cedar Rapids for one day of ground tours and a few flights.
Patrons could check out various parts of the plane during the flight, including the nose cone and cockpit.
“It’s so cool to be in that plane because it’s like you’re in a living museum,” said Cal Norris of Cedar Rapids, who was there with his teenage son, Truman. “I can’t even imagine having to fly in one of those and (with) those guys getting shot at and having to do that 25, 30 times.”
The flights Tuesday, though, came at a price. Patrons paid $449 for 24 minutes in the air, a little less than $19 per minute. Association members got a discount.
Veterans were given free ground tours, but Clark’s family paid full price for his ride — his second time he saw the plane in Cedar Rapids.
“It’s easily worth that much,” said Dave DeFord, 48, who works at Collins Aerospace and who signed up for a flight as soon as he saw the announcement.
“I’d do it again right now,” said Vietnam veteran Frank Grizel, 68.
Grizel, from Iowa City, flew in a B-29 when one was visiting Cedar Rapids, but he said the B-17 was significantly cooler.
For the Norrises, it was worth crossing the item off their bucket lists. Cal Norris said he’d love to go on it more often — if he wins the lottery to help pay for it.
The association said revenues from the tour help cover maintenance and operations expense and help keep the plane flying.
The visit attracted many nonveterans who were interested in WW II history and aviation.
“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. I’m a World War II buff,” said Tracy Stamp, from Iowa City, who was celebrating his 62nd birthday with the flight. “This was obviously the highlight of this summer.”
Cal Norris said he watched a WW II documentary last month about soldiers in B-17 bombers, and then saw a flyer for the B-17 visit a few days later in a doctor’s office.
“That was our real motivation to knock it off our list,” Norris said.
There’s also a motivation to support the association’s efforts to keep this history flying.
“We have to take the opportunity to keep these things in the air,” he said. “We’re fortunate enough that we could make it work with our budget.”
The tour next heads Friday-Sunday to Ankeny and June 28-30 to Mason City.
As for Clark, it was a chance get one more ride in the same type of plane he fought in decades ago.
“This might be my last ride on a B-17,” he said. “It’s cool to ride in it again.”