Air raid! Vintage planes buzz the skies of Carson City during Air Fair 2005
June 4, 2005
The tarmac rumbles as the World War II-era B-17 Flying Fortress’ monstrous four-engine power plant lifts the silver bird off the runway and lumbers gracefully into the sky with the unassuming power of an ocean liner in the deep and the unforgettable force of a rich, storied history.
“Hear that sound?” says Robert Wood, an 83-year-old WWII and Korean War veteran wearing a white scarf, a vintage aviator’s leather helmet and a smile from a different era. “That’s the sound that saved democracy,” he said.
Like many of the thousands who came to the Carson City Airport for the annual Air Fair open house on Saturday, Wood fell in love with the plane called “Sentimental Journey” the moment he laid eyes on her some 19 years ago.
And it has little to do with the pin-up portrait of leggy bombshell Betty Grable that adorns the plane’s nose.
Talking with Wood, one gets the feeling that he lives for the plane the way some men live for the memory of a lost love. It energizes him just talking about it.
“I love to be sitting up in the nose when it lands,” he said. “You wet your pants!”
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The 1,200-horsepower propeller-driven bomber was built in 1944 and served in the Pacific after the war. It’s owned and maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers from the Commemorative Air Force Arizona Wing who fly the plane around the country on 60-city tours each summer.
According to Jim Harner of the Commemorative Air Force, the plane costs about $2,000 an hour to operate.
Forty-five-minute rides in the plane fetch $395 a piece. As steep as a dive-bomber’s flight plan, but according to lucky passenger Chuck DeVal of King’s Canyon, well worth every penny.
For DeVal, an Air Force veteran, the ride was a surprise birthday present given to him by his wife, Dee.
He carried an official souvenir certificate from his flight as well as the appreciation of soaring through the blue yonder in one of only 50-some operational B-17s left.
“You can really feel the power up there,” said DeVal. “It was absolutely incredible.
For those who wanted to experience a more daredevil thrill of flight, Joe Dori of Austin, offered rides in his WW II replica bi-plane for $40.
The plane featured an open cockpit (no roof) and the feel of what it might have been like to be a young pilot in training. The two-seater is painted a wet red and Dori said it’s the kind of plane veteran pilots used to teach the art of dog-fighting to novice pilots.
“It can do all kinds of crazy aerobatics,” he said as his next rider climbs on the wing and gets into the front set. “Of course, we’d need parachutes to do that, so we keep it level and fun.”
As Dori’s wooden prop whines and then meshes to life in a puff of smoke, a group of Allies were waiting on the ground.
Ernie Levario and friends are dressed up in vintage uniforms, waiting for the enemy so they can stage a mock battle.
“We’re supposed to have Nazis,” he said. “But one had to go to work and the other had a wedding to go to.”
He watches as the “Sentimental Journey” floats down the runway and lands. “It’s a beautiful site,” he said.
n Contact reporter Peter Thompson at email@example.com or 881-1215.