At the B-17 Co-op
Like bomber crews on 100-plane raids, today’s B-17 owners find strength—and survival—in numbers.
- By Brendan McNally
- Air & Space magazine, March 2012
(Page 3 of 5)
In the mid-1980s, companies that had been providing fire-bombing services to the U.S. Forest Service began selling off their B-17s for newer aircraft. “All of a sudden, here are all these people with all these big-ass airplanes,” says Garcia. “They want to restore them. They want to have a good time with them and make money. Where do they go? They haven’t got a clue. Then they start to realize there is the triangle, us, sitting there with all this information. So they start coming to our meetings and we lure them into the group.”
Each year one of the owners hosts the B-17 Co-op meeting, usually at a hotel close to the airport where that bomber is berthed. The owners sit around a large table, while behind them, in chairs lining the walls, their assistants, operations chiefs, and mechanics eye one another silently. By now most of the support crew members know one another, but they are usually careful not to advertise it, since a certain level of distrust still exists among the groups.
Strength in Numbers
At a recent meeting in Fort Worth, hosted by Chuckie Hospers, the Texas Raiders team has decided to lend a damaged spare set of horizontal stabilizers to Ray Moore in South Carolina, who is building a B-17 practically from scratch. In return, Moore will fix the damaged set, then copy it and make a set for himself and one for another project. Helping Moore is in keeping with the new spirit of cooperation. Now, someone observes, if only Moore can figure out where to get a set of wings.
In a few months, some of the bombers will start on their national tours. They need to come to some agreement on their visitation schedules so that one doesn’t show up in a city only to find out another bomber just left. Everyone knows this is easier said than done. They just hope that if they don’t work it out as a group at the table, they might do it afterward by themselves at the bar.
It’s time to place another order for main-gear tires. They’ve got a specialty tire manufacturer in England with the molds for B-17 tires, which need replacing after 75 to 100 landings, and he’s ready to do another run. The more tires he makes, the lower the per-unit cost and the less it will cost to ship them. How many does everybody want? Then the subject turns to spark plugs. Do they all still have enough, or can they wait another year before putting in an order? They go back and forth and decide it can wait another year, at least.
What about brake expander tubes? They’re a key part of the B-17’s braking system, and by now much of the rubber has deteriorated. The company offering to make them won’t start tooling up unless the co-op comes up with $75,000 worth of orders—about 100 sets. So how many brake expander tubes does everyone want?
An Aluminum Overcast rep mentions how that team thought they had three spare sets that were still good, but when they slapped on one set, no sooner were they up in the air than it started leaking fluid. They were able to land and put in a new set—it’s holding fine, but it did reduce their complacency a tad.