Those looking to the sky this weekend might catch a glimpse of a piece of history as a restored World War II-era bomber takes flight over the Monadnock Region.
The B-17G Aluminum Overcast plane is one of fewer than 15 of its kind that is still airworthy, and it’s visiting Keene’s Dillant-Hopkins Airport in North Swanzey this weekend as part of a national tour hosted by the Wisconsin-based Experimental Aircraft Association. The plane started giving public tours and flights Friday and will be at the airport through Sunday.
This model of aircraft was primarily used in Europe during World War II, according to the association, and often flew into battle without a fighter escort. Perhaps the most famous B-17 is Memphis Belle, which was the subject of the 1990 Hollywood film of the same name and is now on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
Built in 1945, this Aluminum Overcast was most recently used by the U.S. Forest Service to dust forest lands for fire ants before eventually being donated to the association, according to Larry Wunsch, a coordinator for the B-17 tour. A small portion of the proceeds from ticket and merchandise sales during its stop here will go to the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Wunsch said, though the focus of the tour is not to make a profit.
“[The tour] is costly; it’s not a big money maker for EAA,” Wunsch said. “It’s more about getting out and preserving history is what it is.”
Leonard Weiser of Westminster, Mass., secretary of the Keene chapter, said revenue from the group’s various area events is typically put toward charitable causes, such as relief for hurricane victims. The chapter focuses on promoting aviation and its history, and plans to use any funds from the tour stop toward the same goal, he said.
“The EAA runs an air academy, which is like a summer camp where young people can go, and ... they actually get instruction in flying and ground and all of the aviation aspects,” Weiser said. “So we’re going to be helping sponsor a kid to go out there.”
Stepping through the aircraft’s narrow hatch Thursday, visitors on a tour for members of the media were transported to another era as they explored the plane’s radio room and cockpit, walked through the bomb bay and even crawled down into the nose of the plane where a gunner would sit during flight.
The crew handed out earplugs to stifle the roar of the aircraft’s engines. As the plane cruised through the air, Mount Monadnock was visible in the distance, and the skyline of the Elm City came into focus below, with the iconic silhouette of the United Church of Christ’s steeple rising above the rest of the low buildings.
Though the tour takes the plane all over the country, for this stretch of the trip, it’s been tended to by a local mechanic. Jeff Martin of Winchester is a retired flight inspector and hobbyist pilot and said he has been participating in B-17 tours with the association for the past 16 years.
Martin and the rest of the crew, who are all volunteers, travel with the plane for two-week periods. The tour is designed to group stops close together, and its next destination is Hyannis, Mass., according to Wunsch.
For Martin, it was exciting to have the aircraft close to home.
“You meet a lot of neat people and hear a lot of stories — pilots, gunners and ball turret people. Not as much anymore, because a lot of those folks have passed away,” Martin said. “A lot of family members come out and tell us their father was a tail gunner or a ball gunner or a pilot or share some of their stories.”
Flights are offered Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and ground tours will be offered both days from 2 to 5 p.m. Tours cost $10 per person, while flights are $475 per person for non-EAA members. For more information or to book a flight, go to eaa.org/shop/Flights/B17.aspx.