BELLINGHAM - A piece of history landed in Bellingham Friday, July 6, as a rare WWII B-17 bomber touched down with a roar at the Heritage Flight Museum.
The restored bomber, called "Sentimental Journey," is at the museum for the weekend and is available for tours and flights. It's one of an estimated five B-17 Flying Fortresses still flying in the world.
"Now there it is. Isn't that a lovely sight," said Grant W. Nelson, 88, who flew B-25s with the 5th Air Force in the South Pacific during the war. "Can you imagine thousands of those flying at one time?"
About 50 people gathered to watch the plane come in and stood by as the engines growled to life at about noon, feeling the hot wind as the plane turned to move down the runway. Kids sitting on shoulders had looks of awe and veteran pilots watched with nostalgia.
"It's just like old times," said Ken Blackmore, 89, who was a pilot for Britain's Royal Air Force during WWII. "They have a very special noise, the big ones do. Sounds better than a jet engine."
For Nelson, the deep rumble of the imposing silver plane was a wonderful and rare experience.
"It's a passing era. It just takes you back to when these were everywhere, common," he said. "This is a piece of nostalgia you just don't see anymore. It's a thrill to see an airplane we used to take for granted restored to such pristine condition."
For former B-17 pilot Jim Blaney, 90, seeing the plane was a reminder of times happy and sad during the war: good memories of friends made, tinged with the tragedy of combat and heavy casualties.
"It brings back a lot of memories," he said. "I'm glad they've restored five or six of them because it keeps the public aware that we lost a lot of people over there."
Blaney recalled flying eight-hour missions over Germany with the 8th Air Force and the exhaustion after being at the helm of such a massive machine.
"It was like driving a big Mack Truck down a narrow highway," he said. "It wasn't easy."
Others who showed up to see the plane Friday were brought by a sense of curiosity and respect for the past.
"It's just part of history, a dying breed," said Bellingham resident Susan Wean. "You see it in movies, you see it high in the sky, but it's nice to see it up close."
SEE THE BOMBER
Flights on the B-17 last 30 minutes. The cost is $425 for seating in the radio room and waist gunner section or $850 for seating in the nose. To reserve a flight, call 602-448-9415.
Those who just want to walk through the plane may want to call the reservation number to check the flight schedule before heading to the airport.
Walk-through tours of the historic bomber are on a donation basis. Access to the Heritage Flight Museum is free while the B-17 is on display, but donations are always accepted.
The museum and plane will be open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday and will make only a couple last-minute flights Monday before leaving around noon.
The Heritage Flight Museum is located at Bellingham International Airport on Mitchell Way.
Reach ZOE FRALEY at email@example.com or call 756-2803.