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B-17 visit to MacDill a homecoming for the Flying Fortress

by Nick Stubbs
Special to the Thunderbolt

The time clock will turn back to 1945 Oct. 17th when a lovingly restored example of a classic B-17 bomber makes a stopover at McDill, where base personnel will be able to get an up close and personal look at a plane that was a MacDill fixture six decades ago.

The bomber, detailed and painted to its original 398th Bomb Group color scheme, is shining example of the aircraft in the inventory of the Warbirds group of the Experimental Aircraft Association, which collects and restores historic aircraft and tours the country to keep flying history alive. Master Sgt. Kimberly Walsh, a squad production supervisor in the Aircraft Maintenance Squadron on base, says everyone is in for a treat when the bomber arrives as part of a 16-state tour. An engineer on the classic plane since 1995, she regularly tours with the bomber known as Aluminum Overcast. Not only instrumental in helping win World War II, B-17s were based at MacDill during the war years and that makes the visit it particularly interesting, said Master Sgt. Walsh.

"It brings back a little MacDill history, since the planes used to launch here," she said, adding that she is hoping former B-17 crew or pilots come out for the visit.

Master Sgt. Walsh said one of her favorite parts of touring with the plane is meeting the people who share history with the B-17. While those who flew them are becoming fewer and fewer, she meets former crew members who have "wonderful stories" about missions flown in the plane, many of them tales of the tough birds surviving having parts blown off and still getting them home safely.

"Sometimes it brings me to tears hearing some of the stories," said Master Sgt. Walsh. "Some of the children talk about how they had a father or grandfather who used to fly them and some of them went down in the war." Master Sgt. Walsh said Aluminum Overcast has been completely restored. The only thing that is not original is the gun bay at the flight engineer's position has been removed and the bomb bay doors are inoperable. Part of a fleet of fighters and bombers in the Warbirds collection, the group works to preserve the military flying history through its aircraft, said Master Sgt. Walsh.

"We're trying to promote aviation and keep it (military aircraft history) alive for everyone," she said. "It's a very worthwhile thing to do."

 

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