Something new dotted the Lubbock skyline Thursday afternoon: a B-17 World War II- era aircraft flew in a few loops, 1,500 feet above the city. EverythingLubbock.com was invited onboard to preview this flight, which was the first B-17 flight out of the Lubbock airport in several years.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had one come in,” explained Jeremy Barbee, Lubbock-area resident and president of the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 19. “But as soon as I heard from the national chapter and they said, would you like you have this plane to come here to Lubbock? And we said yes, please.”
Barbee said he’s often looking to do more things locally to get people interested in aviation. He said it’s fitting to have this historic plane in Lubbock.
“We have such a rich and diverse history of aviation right here in the Lubbock airport, we’re sitting here on the side of a glider training facility during World War II, it was right here at the Lubbock Municipal Airport, now the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport,” Barbee explained.
The Experimental Aircraft Association sent in six crew members to Lubbock as part of a national tour. The aircraft they brought in is a called the “Aluminum Overcast.” While the B-17 flown in to Lubbock never actually saw combat (it was first flown in 1945 after the war was over), the plane commemorates another B-17 which was shot down over Le Manoir France in 1944. It bears the colors of the 398th Bomb Group of World War II, and veterans of that group helped pay for the plane’s 10-year restoration process.
The name Aluminum Overcast pays tribute to what people on the ground saw when they say these B-17’s flying in large groups overhead, blocking out the sun. The EAA members explained that there were over 12,000 B-17’s produced and that most of those were either lost during the war or during training. They believe that around twelve functioning B-17’s exist today, making the Aluminum Overcast an especially rare window into World War II history.
The Aluminum Overcast is entirely staffed by volunteers, the fees people pay to fly on the plane go toward the expensive upkeep of the plane (the aircraft needs $5,000 worth of fuel every hour).
The plane is equipped with 12 machine guns, four 1,200 horse power engines, and a wingspan of 103 feet.
“We’re trying to promote aviation and remember World War II and the veterans,” explained Bill Fitch, one of the crew members on the Aluminum Overcast. “And what they went through, it gives you a little greater appreciation once you do this, in thirteen years when you do this you never see anyone get off the aircraft and say it wasn’t worth it. “
Fitch said he’s not sure children and young adults today understand what the people who served in World War II endured. He added that part of the value of the Aluminum Overcast is that it helps to educate others on the daily lives of people serving on B-17’s.
“The plane did fly in combat sometimes in 30 thousand feet or above, and in the summertime it could get down to be 40 degrees below zero in the airplane. So they not only had to worry about people trying to shoot them down, it was not a pleasant flight,” Fitch explained. “And generally the next day they had to do it again.”
For Fitch and the other volunteers, they delight in watching new generations become awestruck with the experience of flying on this historic aircraft.
“The people you meet, you’ve got something in common with everybody or they wouldn’t be out with the B-17,” Fitch said. “And they’re excited. And we’re excited to start with even though we’ve been doing this for many years, it never gets old, never,” Fitch said.
November 18- 20 the Aluminum Overcast will be at the Lubbock International Airport. Flights and ground tours are available for a fee, and anyone can stop by to take a look at the outside of the aircraft. For more information go to B17.org.