CEDAR RAPIDS — Mildred Pickle of Iowa City was looking forward Friday to flying in a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, the World War II bomber used primarily in Europe.
Pickle, 94, was the first woman cryptographic machine repair technician in the Air Force in the 1950s, and used to fly in B-25s, similar to the B-17, when she was on a basketball team and being flown to games by pilots in training.
Getting a chance to fly in a B-17 in Iowa was a remarkable opportunity, Pickle said Friday, as she and others who had booked a flight waited at The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids for the clouds to lift. Because of overcast weather, they had only a 50 percent chance of flying.
Tim Busch, founder of Iowa Flight Training, said people who signed up for a flight Friday will get one before the B-17 leaves Cedar Rapids.
“They’ll get them flown, even if they have to stay extra days,” Busch said.
The B-17 tour had sold 108 tickets as of Friday morning.
Capt. John Bode, of New Mexico and a pilot for 30 years, has been flying the B-17 for 14 years — a “phenomenal experience,” he said.
“It really is the pinnacle of aviation, and it’s something I think all young pilots dream of,” Bode said. “I never thought I would have the opportunity to be involved with such an amazing organization or fly such an amazing aircraft.”
Before each flight, Bode gives a history of the role B-17s played in World War II as the most modern aircraft in the U.S. inventory during the war.
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It had 13 .50-caliber machine guns — now disabled — and could withstand heavy combat damage.
Fewer than 15 B-17s are still flying.
One of the most rewarding parts of flying the B-17, Bode said, is meeting World War II veterans, hearing their stories and “seeing their memories come back.”
“What you really hear is what they went through on a daily basis and the sacrifices they made so we can live in a society where we’re free to make choices,” he said. “(World War II) was an amazing time where everybody in America set aside their own views and really came together for the country.”
Bode said the flights foster “multigenerational relationships,” by helping people better understand the world war, which lasted from 1939 to 1945 and involved most of the world’s countries.
Passengers boarding the B-17 soon discover it was not designed for comfort, Bode said. The temperature inside matches the temperature outside, which was a chilly 42 degrees Friday morning.
“It’s a living history museum,” Bode said.
The plane can take up 10 passengers at a time with a crew of three — the captain, co-captain and flight engineer.
If you go
The B-17 will be in Cedar Rapids through Sunday.
Visitors can view the plane from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids.
Tickets — $409 to $475 — are for sale on-site or can be booked through eaa.org. Proceeds go to the B-17’s maintenance and operational expenses and to the Experimental Aircraft Association, a nonprofit.
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