The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Arizona Wing Aviation Museum will be offering rides in “Sentimental Journey,” a restored B-17G Flying Fortress, at the 39th annual Copperstate Fly-In & Aviation Expo at the Casa Grande Municipal Airport, Oct. 20-22.
Rides on the B-17 start at $425 per person, certainly not pocket change. But, as CAF spokesman Rick Senffer explains, it costs about $3,000 an hour to fly the vintage bomber. “The price of maintenance, like anything else, continues to increase,” he says, noting the biggest expenses are fuel, insurance, engine overhauls and parts. All money from paid flights keep “Sentimental Journey” flying.
For aviation enthusiasts, the chance to fly on “Sentimental Journey” is priceless. “Taking a flight in our B-17 — the most fully restored B-17 flying today — is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Senffer says. “It’s a flying museum.”
Many of these bombers were built by Rosie the Riveters and ultimately flown by aircrews in their late teens or early twenties during World War II, he said. “In the 8th Air Force alone, more than 26,000 aircrew members were lost,” he points out. “These flights let you relive a small part of what it was like to fly in these aircraft, and also remember and honor those aviators.”
After “Sentimental Journey” was donated in 1978 to the then-new Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, the team “soon learned that restoring an airplane meant trips to junkyards, bargaining, trading or begging with anyone who had a needed item, or contacting businesses that might be able to fabricate a part that couldn’t be located,” according to Senffer.
The most difficult task: Locating a top turret. In 1981, one was found at the Bomber Gas Station in Milwaukie, Ore., where a B-17 had rested on the roof for nearly 40 years. Despite harsh weather and vandalism, the sought-after top turret was still intact. A deal was struck: the Arizona Wing of the CAF would provide much-needed work for the “The Bomber,” and the gas station owners would give the authentic top turret to “Sentimental Journey.”
Besides “Sentimental Journey,” the CAF will be offering rides at Copperstate on four other World War II aircraft in its fleet: a B-25 Mitchell twin-engine bomber; a C-45 twin-engine Beech; an L-16 Grasshopper; and an SNJ two-seat trainer. Flight prices range from just $55 (a fly-in special) to $850 for a guaranteed seat in the nose turret of the B-17. To secure a spot, call 602-448-9415 or 480-322-5503; visit the Arizona Wing CAF website; or stop by the CAF’s gift shop trailer at Copperstate.