Learning to Fly the Fortress

Memorable flights and other adventures

The B-17’s cockpit ages well, but the copilot needs both hands to start the engines, and taxiing can be tricky. (Courtesy Eileen Bjorkman )
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After taking off, we climb to 4,500 feet and practice turns, stalls, and an engine shutdown and restart. The control forces are surprisingly light, and handling the airplane feels a lot like flying a light twin. The nose goes where I want it to go, and it’s easy to maintain altitude during turns.

After hearing the bad news that ice is still melting in Appleton, we head back to Oshkosh. I’m expecting Bob to make the difficult crosswind landing, but he lets me fly, coaching me through procedures, throttle settings, and airspeeds. On final approach the airplane’s nose is pointed about 20 degrees left of the runway to correct for the wind. As we get closer I add full left aileron and nearly full right rudder to line the nose back up with the runway. Further complicating the dance, Bob adds power to the left engines to help ensure the nose stays straight. I raise the nose to slow the descent, but not quite enough before the wheels touch asphalt, so we skip a little, but then settle gently back down. After some jumpy braking on my part, Bob taxis to the ramp. With these winds today’s flying is done, which is okay by me. Just one landing has left me pooped.

The next day brings more winds, but they’re nearly aligned with the runway, and we make two flights in the Oshkosh pattern. After about six more landings, I’m starting to get the hang of it, and I finally make a squeaker. As we taxi back to the ramp after the second flight, Bob congratulates me on my new rating.

My new airman certificate reads, “airline transport pilot: multiengine land; b-17,” although there is a limitation: “B-17 Sic [Second In Command] Only.” Even so, I have major bragging rights during future hangar flying sessions.

nnn Eileen Bjorkman

About Eileen Bjorkman

Eileen Bjorkman, a retired U.S. Air Force flight test engineer, is working on a book about the history of homebuilt aircraft.

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