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 4 of 5)
Then Chuckie Hospers announces she’s decided to sell her bomber. Since Doc died the previous March, the toil of running a bomber along with the Vintage Flying Museum, established in 1990, has gotten to be too much. It’s already a done deal. Jerry Yagen of the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach will take delivery of Chuckie in January, though he promises to bring it back in the fall for a hangar dance at Hospers’ museum.
Everyone looks at everybody else. The idea of Chuckie going to Yagen makes sense: He has some 30 airworthy warplanes and a bunch more in restoration. High time he added a B-17.
For a moment, they’re all thinking about what this means: the end of an era. Chuckie and Doc were part of the crew that set up the co-op. If not for those two, the B-17 teams still might not be talking to one another.
Plays Well With Most Others
Don Price of Texas Raiders says that even when there’s a little bit of uncooperativeness from the top guys in the “head sheds,” “the people in the trenches help each other.” After being down eight years for a main wing spar replacement, Texas Raiders ran into problems on its first long tour. “I can tell you we got a lot of help from Yankee Air Museum [in Michigan, which sells rides in Yankee Lady], and the Liberty Foundation [of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which toured with Liberty Belle until the bomber caught fire last June] helped us with one of their mechanics, and then Sentimental Journey sent a couple people over,” Price says. “Some people who helped us, I can’t tell you who they were. They’d say things like ‘The people who run the organization wouldn’t be happy about this.’ But the operators tend to look at it like ‘This could be me broken down next year and I’d need their help.’ ”
A couple of years ago, the guys from Aluminum Overcast came across a huge bonanza of B-17 parts in the city of Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. Says John Hopkins, an Experimental Aircraft Association maintenance manager: “Brake drums, wheel assemblies and landing gear jack-screw assemblies, drive links for the main gear, main gear axles, flap links, cowl flap components, several engines. Plus a box of 120 brand-new, still-in-their-wrappers turbo cooling caps. Turbo cooling caps erode over time because they’re in the pathway of the exhaust. They’re non-existent. You just can’t find them.” Hopkins says his team has no intention of hoarding them. “We get a call from anybody, we’re more than happy to share because we’ll never use 120 cooling caps. Everybody else can use them.”
Even competitors recognize that the reason for keeping these aircraft flying is not entirely ego. “They know what that plane means in our society, what it represents, and they all want to be part of it,” says Tommy Garcia.
“I had a gal who flew with us in Orlando a few years back,” recalls Sean Elliot, flight operations director for the Experimental Aircraft Association. “When she came off [Aluminum Overcast], she was in tears. I went up to her and asked if anything was wrong with the flight. ‘No,’ she said. ‘It was wonderful. My father was killed in April of 1943 over the Black Sea, returning from one of the raids in Germany, and the airplane was lost. I was born in May 1943, so I never knew my father, and the flight gave me a connection to him I never had.’ ”