Friday, October 31, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;46.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/novc.png;2014-10-31 21:50:48
Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A piece of flying history, WWII B-17 bomber on display at Manchester airport

MANCHESTER – For 93-year-old Al Kramer, it was a flight 70 years in the making.

Kramer and two friends made the 2½ hour trek from South China, Maine, on Monday to spend a short 25 minutes in the air riding in a World War II era Boeing B-17, courtesy of the Liberty Foundation of Oklahoma. The flying museum has its four-engine bomber on a United States tour to raise awareness of sacrifices made by young flyers in the world war. ...

Sign up to continue

Print subscriber?    Sign up for Full Access!

Please sign up for as low as 36 cents per day to continue viewing our website.

Digital subscribers receive

  • Unlimited access to all stories from nashuatelegraph.com on your computer, tablet or smart phone.
  • Access nashuatelegraph.com, view our digital edition or use our Full Access apps.
  • Get more information at nashuatelegraph.com/fullaccess
Sign up or Login

MANCHESTER – For 93-year-old Al Kramer, it was a flight 70 years in the making.

Kramer and two friends made the 2½ hour trek from South China, Maine, on Monday to spend a short 25 minutes in the air riding in a World War II era Boeing B-17, courtesy of the Liberty Foundation of Oklahoma. The flying museum has its four-engine bomber on a United States tour to raise awareness of sacrifices made by young flyers in the world war.

The last time Kramer, a former Army Air Corps pilot, was in a B-17 he was over Stuttgart, Germany. The city had been the target of several raids by British and American bombers day and night. On his seventh mission, he was shot down. His plane was one of 11 in a squadron of 12 planes that went down in what he referred to as “that screwball mission to Stuttgart” because of the high loss of life and what many consider a poorly executed raid.

Though crew members were killed, he evaded capture and was held safely by French partisans and eventually spirited to England on a fishing boat, a 29-day venture, where his unit was based.

Kramer is reluctant to talk about his wartime experiences.

“I was shot down, and I got through” was all he would say about the Stuttgart raid. For decades, he remained quiet about his time as a young flyer. When questioned about his wartime experiences Monday, he said he thinks about them every day.

Two friends, Don Pauley and Craig Poulin, finally cajoled him into making the trip to Wiggins Airways in Manchester where the Liberty Foundation’s plane sat on the tarmac outside the organization’s office, waiting for Kramer and a group of reporters and photographers.

“Spend time with Al because he’s the real thing,” said Bob Hill, the plane’s volunteer pilot for the group who was invited to fly Monday. He went on to regale and honor the flyer who stood off to the side of the group during the safety briefing under the plexiglass of the plane’s bombardier position.

The nose art portrays a woman and the name Memphis Belle. The plane appeared in the 1989 movie about the real World War II bomber Mephis Belle, a famed aircraft and accompanying crew.

This particular plane entered service on April 3, 1945, just before Germany surrendered. More than 12,000 B-17s were built between 1935 and 1945. This plane didn’t see combat but served as a transport aircraft and eventually was refitted as an air tanker to fight wildfires into the 1970s. The eventual refit as a military bomber took the B-17G model back to a B-17F, added turrets and armament and an olive drab paint job.

Manchester-Boston Regional Airport has seen these vintage warplanes before in great numbers. It was once known as Grenier Field and served as a training base for fighters during the war and was also a temporary stop for bombers and other planes being ferried to Europe on a route through the Canadian Maritimes, Greenland and eventually England and the terrifying, vicious aerial war in the European Theatre.

Being at the airport “brings back a lot of good and bad memories,” Kramer said.

Kramer, who joined the Army Air Corps from his then home in Kew Gardens, N.Y., offered his insight on flying the big bomber, his bearing the nickname Lone Wolf.

“I was a squadron commander. I had 12 planes to lead,” he said. “Once you took off, when you fly formation, you have to concentrate on that. So I never knew anything until I got back. You had no chance to think of anything. You take care of 12 planes and get back.

“This was a good ship. That helped because to know that if you got in trouble, she’d help you out.”

Airport workers and visitors paused as the wide-bodied plane cranked its radial engines, warmed up, and lumbered to its takeoff position on a flight that pilot Hill said would cause the visitors to use all five senses, “including taste,” he said. Right on the money and beyond the expected rush of the flight experience, clouds of exhaust blew into the aircraft’s fuselage from the bomb bay as it wheeled its way back upon landing.

“It’s just like yesterday,” said Kramer, who said he’d logged 2,200 hours flying B-17s. “It all comes back. All he things you have to do.”

And it’s people like Kramer that keep the Liberty Foundation focused.

“We do this because of the men and women who were putting every thing on the line,” said crew member John Eads, who traveled to New Hampshire with fellow crew members Bryan Wyatt, also a volunteer pilot, and Jeff Comeau. “We want to celebrate them as much as we can, as well as educate the younger generations on what it took for them to do this.”

Eads father, who he described has having a sixth-grade education but was a good mechanic, helped to integrate the connection between the plane’s controls and the then-advanced and secret Norden bombsight.

“That aircraft was designed in 1935,” said Eads, watching the plane taxi to a stop. “They only had pencil, paper and a sliderule.

“The flyers came in as young adults. After their first mission, they were old men.”

Eads talks about the former crew members who come to look at the rebuilt plane, some in walkers and wheelchairs.

“They get in the airplane and you take 30 years off their age,” he said.

Eads said for people interested in getting a closer look, the bomber will be parked at Wiggins Airways, 1 Garside Way, Manchester, at the north end of the building. Flights begin at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday and are scheduled to run until 2. If more people want to ride, then times will be extended. Cost for a half hour flight is $450.

After the flights, the plane will be open for ground tours and people will be allowed to get into the plane. Although there’s no admission charged to tour the plane, donations are strongly encouraged. It costs $4,500 an hour to fly the Memphis Belle, Hill said.

Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or dhimsel@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Himsel on Twitter (@Telegraph_DonH).