Ready For Takeoff
By ANN Warbird Correspondent Tom Griffith
It was no surprise to me that the
pilots' checklists were a LOT more involved than those that I'm
used to before taking off in a Cessna 150 or 172. B-17 drivers have
to be concerned with such things as whether or not the tail wheel
was locked, and all that stuff.
See Part Two
They worked together very well, with Stewart asking Tim such
things as if we were going to "clear that Cessna on the right" as
This monster's wingspan is over 100 feet, and that's a lot of
wing to keep track of. I got to hear their radio calls and
"chatter," also - this only added to the experience. Tom Owens also
added the occasional information to help them get the beast
My two partners in the rear of the plane were Dudley Anderson
and his dad, Dick. Dudley was from my generation and Dick,
naturally, was of the Greatest Generation. I learned that Dick had
been a B-17 crew chief during WWII, having been called up from the
reserves in 1943 and serving until after the War ended. He made it
to Europe, but did not fly any combat missions. This is no way
detracts from his service to our country - the guys from my dad's
generation seem to feel almost guilty if they didn't get shot at
during the War. They are ALL heroes to me - Dudley is blessed to
have a dad who is not only alive, but to have one who still has his
Dudley, Dick and I took numerous photos of not only "Thunder
Bird," but of each other, to help memorialize our unforgettable
flight. We've already exchanged some of the photos by e-mail. It's
always a pleasure to make the acquaintance of, and keep in touch
with, fellow warbird nuts.
After we'd taxied to the run-up area and the run-ups had been
completed, we were ready to take off and did so shortly thereafter.
Running up four engines and cycling four props had been done
quickly and efficiently (these adverbs apply to everything that
these guys did on our flight). There was no fanfare, or sounds of
heavenly music as we began our take-off. I was surprised that our
take-off run was rather short. A lighter than military take-off
weight, coupled with Galveston's ever-present wind contributed to
this rather short take-off roll.
I heard Stewart Dawson, comparing the take-off to that of a
Hawker Sea Fury (he gets to fly all kinds of warbirds, lucky
stiff!) as we were climbing out - all this, and sarcasm, too! I
loved it! Only a few seconds after clearing the runway, we were
over the Gulf of Mexico and "T-Bird" made a 90-degree turn to the
left (basically to the east) and we flew parallel to Galveston's
Seawall and beach.
The day turned out to be only slightly hazy and we could see for
miles, as we cruised at 700 to 800 feet (AGL and MSL are the same,
here!), bustin' along at 160 mph. The pilots had told us that we
had 958 gallons of fuel on board and that we could fly for maybe
four hours before we had to land to refuel, but that our flight
would be a little shorter than that - about 30 minutes or so. Also,
each engine has a tank with 35 gallons of oil, but more on that
Dick, Dudley and I were all smiles in the back, and I'd bet that
the two guys corralled up in the nose were smiling as well. Thanks
to digital cameras with room for hundreds of photos on each card,
the three of us were taking pictures right and left.
Excuse me, the two "amateurs" were taking pictures, and I, the
professional photojournalist was composing my subjects and taking
photographs. OK, OK - I was snapping pictures like a daddy at his
daughters' first soccer games (believe me, I have experience doing
I also made notes right and left on my trusty little yellow note
pad. Funny thing, though, I've written the first article and
this much of this one without having to refer to the notes (I'm
sure that ANN readers don't really need to know that we began our
take-off roll at 1052 local time [or 1552 Zulu]).
OK, so I had to go to the notes for that bit of minutia. We were
given the "OK to roam" message on the intercom, so roam we
did. We were able to go back to the waist area and view the
world as it passed by less than 1000 feet below. I naturally
blasted a couple of Me-109s, FW-190s, A6M Zeroes and who knows what
ELSE out of the sky when I manned each of the two waist .50 cal
Browning Machine Guns.
Tim, our copilot, had pointed out during his orientation speech
to us that while all of the turrets are functional (the B-17-G has
three turrets), the guns in the turrets and other positions were
not real (he told us that the receivers were castings and wouldn't
function - DARN!) and that we wouldn't be able to fire any
point-fifties on our little flight.
The ball turret was off limits, as if a 6 ft 2 inch 195 pound 57
year-old guy could scrunch up and fit into a space that was cramped
even for its intended occupant in WWII - a 20-year old, 5 ft 4 inch
125 pound kid! It's amazing how relatively small this big
bomber is inside. I had to stoop over the whole time and crawling
around the ball turret and its mounting shaft (whatEVER it's
called!) was lots of fun.
Making my way up front was even more fun. There's a VERY narrow
walkway through the bomb bay (between the racks of dummy bombs) and
I managed to pass through to the front and check out what was going
on up on the flight deck.
After I somehow passed through the bomb bay without falling or
stumbling, I made my way to the flight deck and observed that Tom
Owens was hovering behind Tim and Stewart. He monitored them AND
the aircraft. I'm a non-instrument rated private pilot
(single-engine land), so I immediately sought out instruments on
the panel that I knew something about. All of the important "steam
gauge" instruments are duplicated - one set for the pilot and one
for the copilot.
The engine gauges are very different, since there has to be four
of everything, with most of them providing information for a pair
of engines on a single dial or gauge - there were two "hands" or
"needles" per gauge, naturally - in each case, the left engines on
one gauge and the right engines on the other. There is only one set
of engine gauges (as far as I could detect), and it's right in the
middle of the panel.
When I looked outside to the right and the left, the big
Hamilton Standards were merrily turning to the beautiful music of
synchronized Wright Cyclones (BTW, all four engines were built by
Studebaker, as Tim had pointed out on our orientation, but I'd
already looked for myself).
I observed the prop synchronizing gauges, but it was easier to
feel and hear that the props were all a-turnin' pretty much the
same RPM. I noticed that whenever we banked, the pilot had to put
some muscle into the effort, but then again, this plane doesn't
have boosted controls.
I returned to the back, to give Dick a chance to get up front
where he'd ridden in B-17s some 60 years ago. Once again, I must
note that I was honored to be in the presence of one of my
In Part Four, we'll see how this trip ends.