B-17 Flying Fortress

My son and I made this flight in honor of my son's deceased maternal grandfather, Jack R. Dunn, who flew as flight engineer and dorsal turret gunner on many missions over Germany. He survived a crash-landing onto a frozen lake after being shot out of the sky by German fighters. The crew was fortunate enough to be found by the Russians instead of by the nearby Germans. After two weeks on patrol with the Russians, they reached American lines. A few days later the crew was back in the air again. Those were truly the days of iron men and aluminum ships.

Along with black jeans and black engineer boots, the pilot wore a black leather jacket. He was tall and he looked about twenty-three years old. His hair was like that of one of my son's teenage buddies with a crewcut top and shorn sides. A pair of horn-rims rested on his nose. Other than having seen him land the plane and change the oil cooler on one of the big radials, I knew nothing about him. He was less than half the age of the other crew members, yet they all called him "sir," and they all followed his orders. I was thinking about this as my son and I and our friend climbed through the rear door. We sat down on the floor in the radio room behind the bomb bay and buckled our seat belts. I noticed that the plane's flight was controlled by bare steel cables stretched on either side of the thin-walled fuselage. It was hard to believe that this was arguably the toughest plane of World War II. I thought the noise at takeoff was loud until later in the flight when we climbed into the nose between the rotating props. I yelled as loud as possible, and I could not hear myself. We had planned to fly from Hattiesburg to Hawkins Field in Jackson at 3,000 feet; however, we had to go to 5,000 feet because of the bad weather. I watched the pilot for a while as he made corrections for the difficult winds. He managed to find the runway in the rain and fog and then to set the plane down. He paused long enough to let us jump out. We watched him taxi. Momentarily, he lifted the old warbird off and flew toward Arkansas.

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