The B-17 Flying Fortress was the workhorse of the U.S. Air Force during World War II, and the war’s most famous plane. It is an enormous machine, once equipped with a dozen .50-caliber guns and able to carry upwards of 4,000 pounds of bombs. It flew its first combat mission in 1941. It was the plane that flew innumerable bombing missions over Europe—including the fire bombings of Dresden, where more than 300 B-17s took part—and to some extent in the Pacific. At the height of the war, Flying Fortresses were being shot down almost at the same rate as Boeing and other companies were manufacturing them: 17 a day. The last of the B-17s, the 12,731st, to be exact, was inspected on July 29, 1945, just a few weeks before the end of the war, and that one was built by Lockheed, which had formed a production pool with Boeing and Douglas starting in 1941. But the plane kept flying and finding new uses—for reconnaissance and, more recently, for pleasure.
And today, one of those B-17 fortresses will be landing at the Flagler County Airport (weather permitting), in preparation for the three-day Wings Over Flagler – Rock’n The Runways fly-in at the airport. Visitors will even be able to fly it, for about $450 a ride, what Wings Over Flagler co-creator Bill Mills “bucket list stuff.” (Mills and his wife Kim Mills created the first Wings Over Flagler five years ago).
The B-17, an emissary of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wis., is just one of three enormous flying machines that will be on display this year: Wings Over Flagler is also hosting what Mills calls the C-54 Berlin Airlift Flying Museum, the Douglas-manufactured plane that was the star of one of the great moments of the cold war: the Berlin airlift that dropped some 2.3 million tons of supplies on West berlin for a year between 1948 and 1949, as the Soviet Union blockaded the city in hopes of gobbling it up for itself, and brought the world closer to World War II than it’s ever been since. (The blockade provoked more tensions than the Cuban missile crisis.)
The particular C-54 landing this week at the Flagler County Airport is called the Candy Bomber, which was the nickname of its original pilot—Col. Gail Halvorsen. He’d see children at the end of the runway where the airlift planes would land and take-off. He decided to drop sticks of gums on every run, wiggling his wings so the children would recognize the plane, and the nickname stuck. (Halvorsen is now 94 and divides his time between Arizona and his farm in Utah.)
“The historic C-54 Berlin Airlift Flying Museum is one of the big stars of the show,” Flagler County Airport Director Roy Sieger said. “It’s not just a large plane to take pictures of, people are encouraged to come aboard and experience history.”
The third enormous aircraft will be a CH-47 Chinook, which made its first appearance in 2011. The twin-engine heavy-lift helicopter has been in service since 1962, with some 1,179 such birds built since.
As for flying buffs who can’t shell out the $450 for the Flying Fortress, they can always experience flying aboard the first commercial airliner in history, the Ford Tri-Motor, also brought to the air show by the Experimental Aircraft Association. That’s just $75 a ride.
Ford built 199 Tri-Motors, the first of which flew starting in 1926, a year before Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis. The plane at the fly-in was built in 1929 and has been completely refurbished. Its price when built: $42,000. The value has gone up a tad since.
In all, “$150 million worth of equipment is coming to Flagler Airport,” Mills said. The big planes are one thing. There’ll also be more than 40 other, smaller planes spanning the history of aviation going back to World War I (which is in its centenary commemoration) all the way to current wars in the Middle East by way of Korea and Vietnam. Mills himself will be flying an L-39 fighter jet, first manufactured in the former Czechoslovakia and a favored military jet among the former Warsaw Pact nations during the cold war. As a training aircraft, the L-39 still has broad appeal.
And there will, of course, be a tribute to Wild Bill Walker, killed while flying a performance at the 2011 Wings Over Flagler.
For the first time this year, the air show will be a three-day festival. The event has grown so much that, also for the first time, Mills says some pilots had to be turned away.
“I fly on the air show circuit throughout the year and I get to meet a lot of the acts and the other pilots,” Mills says, explaining Flagler’s attraction. “”the pilots like to go to a good and fun venue as well and that’s what we try to produce here in Flagler, a destination for the pilots as well. They have a reason to want to come here versus anywhere else.”
The three days will be filled with music, with Flagler Broadcasting’s partnership (that’s the Rock’n The Runways part), and with tribute bands Friday and Saturday (The Allman Brothers, Led Zepplin, Bon Jovi, and “the Ultimate Journey Tribute Show” Saturday evening at 7:30), which will be playing between aerobatic performances by the planes. There’ll also be fireworks Saturday night around 9 p.m.
Event hours are from 4 to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday concluding with a massive fly-off. Parking and shuttle service is free, and $5 airport parking is offered. Many education charities benefit from the event. Admission is just $12 adults, veterans $10 and kids 12 and under $5. No pets or coolers. Bring concert chairs. For more aircraft information go to WingsOverFlagler.com.