It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a bird on a plane!

Last week, I wrote about seeing a World War II-vintage B-17 bomber flying into the Lawrence, MA airport. It turns out it was a fund-raising event for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Greater Boston Chapter.

Saturday, I tossed aside my cleaning plans and ventured into the Heart Of Darkness itself, the Lawrence Airport. (Fortunately, the airport is on the fringe of the city, so I was able to “sneak up” on it by going through Methuen, Haverhill, and North Andover.) The admission was a mere six bucks, so I forked over the money and approached this titan of history.

As one of the commenters noted before, there’s an odd dichotomy to military construction. The huger they are on the outside, the more cramped they are on the inside.

(Much more below the fold, with lots of cool pictures)

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Here are the specifications of a B-17G Flying Fortress. And not included on the list there is a maximum crew weight of 1200 pounds. That means that with a crew of 10, their AVERAGE weight has to be 120 pounds.

It’s hard to comprehend the sheer size of this plane. I managed to get the whole thing from an angle, but from straight ahead the rope barriers meant I couldn’t step back far enough — I had to capture it in three overlapping pictures.

Those engines are remarkable in their sheer brute power. Each engine has nine cylinders, and each cylinder is three liters in displacement. Together, they put out 1,200 horsepower — for a grand total of 4800 horsepower. And they put that power to use to spin propellors that are 11 feet, 7 inches in diameter.

In comparison, my Shaggin’ Wagon has a 3-liter engine that puts out 200 horsepower. The Fuddy Duddy’s engines put out 24 times the power of my car, and have 36 times the size.

The plane was called a “Flying Fortress” for a reason. At the time, the US didn’t have fighter planes that could accompany and protect the bombers on their long-range missions, so they had to protect themselves. The Fuddy Duddy bristles with 13 .50-caliber machine guns — two on the chin, one on each side of the cockpit, one turret on top, one ball turret on the belly, one gun that can be fired out the “sun roof,” a waist gun on each side, and a tail turret.

(This photo shows what must have been the last sight for quite a few German fighter pilots. I want to call this one “And I say it’s WABBIT SEASON!“)

Everything about this plane, from the outside, is big. The wings are huge, the horizontal stabilizers are huge, even the tires are huge. I could walk, standing straight, under the wing and not come close to hitting my head until I was between the engines — and I’m six feet tall.

Now that I’ve impressed you all with the big aspects of this plane, it’s time to get small. My six bucks allowed me to go inside.

The bombardier’s station was closed off by a plexiglas door, but this might show you just how cramped it was — but with a magnificent view. And the cockpit wasn’t much better. The bomb bay was of pretty good size, but the catwalk to cross it was frighteningly tight. (The little boy was terrified of walking across it, but eventually did.) I didn’t like crossing it while the plane was on the ground; I don’t want to think of having to do it at 35,000 feet.

The radio operator’s station was a bit too dark for my camera, but they had restored it to its original condition, with original equipment — it even had a telegraph set. But I did get one nice picture of the view he enjoyed.

I am tremendously grateful to the men and women who keep this remarkable piece of history alive and flying, and I would urge any of you with the least bit of appreciation for what World War II meant to this nation to go and see her if she visits near you. And if you can scrape up the $395 they charge for a chance to actually fly in her, you have my eternal envy.

Why do I bother?
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  1. Zippy September 5, 2005
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