Tag end of September at the Hickory Aviation Museum and a little bit of magic happened with the arrival of Madras Maiden, a B-17G owned by the Liberty Foundation.
When you get a chance just to see a B-17G, walk around it, go inside and spend some time at the crew stations, take that chance. If you get to talk to the crew, do it. Get to know some of the people that keep pieces of history like this alive. If you get a chance, help them work on the airplane! Maybe you don’t know anything about Wright radial engines, but I bet if you offer to help them wash the oil from those radial engines off the airplane they’ll be more than happy to let you.
I doubt I’ll ever get to fly a B-17, but at least I did get to sit in the pilot’s seat, and I’d like to thank John Hess of the Liberty Foundation for that. And John, as you probably figured out, I somehow managed to squeeze my over-large self into the left seat without bumping the controls or switches!
That’s how I got to see what Charlie Davis saw.
Shameless self-promotion: Charlie Davis is a character in my novels. He flies B-17s from the first book, Everything We Had, and continuing through the fourth book, Thanks for the Memories.
When, in the second book, A Snowball’s Chance, Charlie looked out over the left wing at that “blank-blank No. 1 engine,” here’s what he saw:
OK, OK. So in my mind’s eye I deleted the fuel truck and the ramp, the tower and the terminal and all that other stuff belonging to KHKY and the present day, and the wing was olive-drab all the way down, and the airplane was actually flying, enroute to Darwin from Del Monte Field on Mindanao, at a time when we were losing the war.
And so in my mind’s eye I looked ahead of the airplane to see what Charlie might see, and here it is:
So you have to ignore the jets at the right and the modern artificial horizon at the lower left corner, but I love the evening sun streaming in from the right. Up ahead of the instrument panel you see the astrodome, which was there only on the “E” and following models of the B-17. But imagine Al Stern sticking his head up into the astrodome to shoot the sun, and maybe grin at Charlie before returning to his navigator’s table.
You look to the right to check on your co-pilot, where so many of Charlie’s ill-fated co-pilots sat.
And there are things in this picture that wouldn’t be there in 1941 or 1942, but I hope most people realize that, among other things, the plastic water bottle wouldn’t be there.
Maybe it isn’t perfect. But going to Shiloh or Gettysburg, and looking at those carefully manicured and tended fields, that’s not the way it was on those bloody days that made those awful battles remembered.
Here’s what matters to me: I got to sit there and imagine, and, yes, dream a little bit.
If you get the chance, you should too, just to see what Charlie Davis and the real-life people I drew him from saw.
Thanks again, Madras Maiden. You really are the stuff of dreams.