Aero Club members hear all about B-17 bomber

Gary Vacin

A group of 80 Sun Lakes Aero Club members and guests heard about the history of the B-17 Flying Fortress of World War II fame during a presentation to the club’s monthly gathering November 19 at the Sun Lakes Country Club. Col. Jim Evans (USAF Ret.), noted aviation historian and Commemorative Air Force (CAF) member, talked about the famed bomber and the “Sentimental Journey” restored B-17 now stationed at the CAF Museum at Falcon Field in Mesa.

Evans said the Boeing Company competed against Douglas and Martin for a contract to build 200 bombers in 1935. Although Boeing’s entry (prototype Model 299/XB-17) outperformed both competitors and exceeded the U.S. Army Air Corps’ performance specifications, Boeing lost the contract to the Douglas B-18 Bolo because the prototype crashed. But the air corps ordered 13 more B-17s for further evaluation. From its introduction in 1938, the B-17 evolved through numerous design advances, becoming the third-most-produced bomber of all time, behind the B-24 and the German Ju 88.

The B-17 was primarily employed by the air corps in the daylight strategic bombing campaign of World War II against German industrial and military targets.

As of May, 2015, 10 B-17s remain airworthy. In 1978, a CAF member purchased one of these aircraft and donated it to the recently-formed Arizona unit of the CAF. She was meticulously restored and maintained in flying condition and is now known as the “Sentimental Journey.” Evans is one of a number of speakers who have shared their stories at Sun Lakes Aero Club gatherings. Next speaker will be Sun Lakes resident George Abernathy who will share his experiences as a helicopter scout-door gunner in Vietnam on January 21.