Tom Tries Again
By ANN Warbird Correspondent Tom Griffith
Since first seeing this
big, beautiful Boeing bomber at LSFM over 10 years ago, I have
wanted to get a ride in this warbird. My dream to fly in a B-17
actually dates back maybe 50 years, and among bombers, I consider
the B-17 the Holy Grail.
The magic day arrived in October, 2002 when Ralph Royce, head
honcho at LSFM, invited me to ride in "T-Bird" at the upcoming
November airshow. As an ANN correspondent, I'd written articles on
their Spitfire and their Privateer, as well as covered LSFM
airshows that are held in the spring and fall (November still IS
fall on the Texas Gulf coast - it might get into the 80s in
November in this semi-tropical island paradise) each year.
Being a serious amateur photographer, I naturally shot the
occasional one or two (OK, one or two HUNDRED) photos on each visit
to LSFM. Long story short, on that fateful day in November, 2002,
the B-17 was "sick" and I was "forced" to accept a consolation
ride in the LSFM's equally super B-25/PBJ Mitchell, "Special
The following spring, my ever-suffering wife, Louise, and I,
along with several cameras, arrived at Galveston's Scholes Field
(home of the LSFM) after, once again, Ralph had so graciously
invited me to ride in "T-Bird." This time, just prior to our
arrival at Scholes, "T-bird" blew a tire on landing and they had to
put a bald "spare" onto her and tow her back to the hangar.
The LSFM crew took a look at the other main tire, and it, too,
was rather "iffy, so they decided to change both of them. This
saga, too, was filed as a story for ANN,
and to make a long story short in this instance, it took all day
and they still were NOT finished with the tire changes before the
end of the flying day. It seems that changing a B-17 main tire is a
little harder than it is on a Ford pickup, so… I got
snake-bit again, like we say in Texas!
That was 2003 and because of moves, job changes, a granddaughter
taking center stage in our lives in 2003, we had not been back to
an LSFM airshow since the spring of '03. That's too long,
We finally made plans for this spring's airshow (The 15th Annual
Spirit of Flight Airshow, to be exact) and I e-mailed Ralph, who,
when I asked if I still had a ride coming on the B-17, replied, and
I quote, "YOU BET!". …BIG capital letters, exclamation point
So…it was on again! My work schedule and the airshow
weekend (April 23rd and 24th) dovetailed perfectly! Louise made
arrangements with a wonderful bed and breakfast in Galveston (we
stayed at Queen Anne's Bed and Breakfast, to be exact, and we
recommend them HIGHLY! Beth and George Ibarra are the new owners
and they treat you like family, but I digress). "Bad" weather
was forecast, but with Gulf coast weather, you never know.
We arrived in Galveston a couple of days before the airshow and
naturally proceeded to Scholes Field and the Lone Star Flight
Museum. I flashed my LSFM membership card and my ANN Press Pass and
told them that Ralph Royce had promised me a ride on the B-17.
Debbie Kolojaco, the giftshop manager and gatekeeper of the Museum,
made a phone call and announced my presence. About two minutes
later, I heard a voice from above call out, "Tom Griffith."
"Is that you, Lord," I wanted to say, but before I could say
anything, the same voice said "up here." I looked up to the second
floor balcony above the giftshop and there was Larry Gregory (the
Number Two guy at LSFM) who said that I was scheduled for 10:30 the
next morning, which would be the day before the airshow started.
This was way cool, because from experience, I knew that rides
outside of airshow dates were usually longer than ones during the
As an aside, I was pleased and flattered to see a post card with
one of my photos (a B-26 Marauder) on their rack of souvenir post
cards. I just had to let Debbie know that it was one of my photos!
She was obviously too star-struck to remember to ask me for my
autograph. OK, OK - so she really wasn't star-struck, but a guy can
When we drove up, we had seen that a number of their birds were
out on the ramp behind the LSFM's hangars, so I took advantage of
the situation. Their F4U, B-25/PBJ, P-47, a couple of AT-6s, and
other planes were basking in the sun.
During airshows, it's very hard to get "clean" photos of the
aircraft. You usually have someone or a herd of someones in front
of your subject, and you get steamed that they're usually standing
there looking around deciding things like, "do we get corndogs
first and then funnel cakes, or just stick with funnel
cakes…" You get the idea. Now if they were admiring one of
the warbirds, then I'd understand, but… Rest assured that
pre-airshow photos on the ramp generally require less waiting and
allow for more shooting!
I made my way back into the main hangar and found Tom Owens, the
crew chief of "Thunder Bird," in his usual location, doing his
usual thing: scurrying around the big bomber checking everything
out - looking for excessive leaks (it's been said that radial
engines - the B-17 has four nine-cylinder Wright R-1820 radials -
constantly drip oil, and if they ever stop dripping, then
something's wrong!), wiping off smudges and dust here and
This was my first viewing of "T-Bird" since she received her
shiny new paint job last year. Although shiny camouflage paint was
never seen in wartime, it makes a classy airplane look that much
more classy. Anyway, I let Tom know that he'd better have
everything shipshape by the next day, because I didn't want to miss
out on a ride on her at 10:30. He seemed surprised that they'd be
flying the next day - he said something to the effect that he was
"always the last one to know.
I had taken maybe 50 or 60 photos in maybe 30 minutes outside of
the hangars and a few inside, too, and then hung around outside of
the Museum grounds for a few minutes to catch the B-25 taking off
for a short flight. This is the very same plane that I flew in
2½ years ago and I decided that if the B-17 couldn't fly for
some reason, that I'd happily accept another ride on the B-25.
Note to self: the B-25 NEVER, EVER lets me down when I need a
lot of racket in my life. What a wonderful noise two Wright R-2600s
make! Man, how I'd like to have that sound, at THAT volume, on hand
to blast through my stereo speakers in my car when there's some kid
playing rap so loud that my car vibrates!
Anyway - I was all set up for the next day. I just had to
somehow live through the night and remember to wake up in time for
the 10:30 AM flight. I was ready at 5:30 the next morning and a
little voice (Louise's) told me that we wouldn't be leaving quite
So, we hung around the Queen Anne, ate an excellent breakfast
(the second, and very important part of "Bed and Breakfast") and
made our way to Scholes about 10 AM, and saw a lot MORE aircraft
lined up outside of the hangars (even a couple of USAF A-10
Warthogs), with the gleaming, huge B-17 leading the pack, closest
to the runway! …lookin' good for me!
In part two, we'll see if Tom
Griffith gets to ride in the object of his affection and the
subject of this article.