Onboard the B-17 Flying Fortress

Texas Raiders B-17 Flying Fortress
B-17 Flying Fortress. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Beautiful: The slow drone of four radial piston engines on a crystal clear November morning as I stepped back in time with this great warbird.

This morning, I drove out to a small airport north of Houston for a bucket list experience.

Flying in a B-17 is something I’ve wanted to do ever since crawling around in one with my Dad when we were at the Wings Over Houston air show over ten years ago.

Texas Raiders B-17 Flying Fortress
Texas Raiders B-17 Flying Fortress. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Radio desk B-17 Flying Fortress
I sat at the radio desk for take-off and landing. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Dad has always been a big WWII buff. He was a little boy during the war, and he lived with his grandmother in a big house on Jackson Avenue in New Orleans. In order to help pay bills, she had officers room at the house throughout the war. Dad said the officers would tell stories during dinner, and often, if he could catch time with them when his grandmother wasn’t around, he’s get fuller versions to the tales — you know how little boys love gory details. My great uncle Douglas flew B-25 bombers during the war, and Dad has a photograph of Douglas’s squadron flying over New York City.

Anytime a World War II film came out, Dad took me with him. Hope and Glory is a big favorite of his — he says the young boy is the age he was during the war. Dad watched the boys playing in the bombed out ruins of houses in London, and he said, “I would have been right there with them!” If you have not seen Hope and Glory, I highly recommend it. It’s a look at the Blitz through a impish boy’s eyes, and with it a reminder that even during the worst of times, life goes on, sometimes in very funny ways.

Sadly, Hope and Glory is not available for official streaming online  and the only second-hand DVD versions are ridiculously expensive. It can be seen here: Hope and Glory.

We went to see Memphis Belle when it came out in 1990. I loved this film, and have continued to feel this way about it, although I am keenly aware that the film is a fictionalization of the documentary of the same name. Watch the original documentary for accuracy; watch the film for good storytelling. I watched the movie again yesterday afternoon after coming home from my flight, and still love it. I’ve included links to the documentary and to the film trailer below.

Saving Private Ryan was a very big deal when it came out, and while we did not see it together, it was the topic of discussion for several phone visits. Then came Band of Brothers, my all-time favorite miniseries. I gave it to Dad for Christmas the year it was released on DVD. I felt very fortunate to have met a member of the WWII 101 Airborne during a Wings Over Houston airshow in the mid-2000’s. Charming man, and quite the flirt.

Over 12,000 B-17 bombers were built for World War II, but now only eleven of these aircraft are still flying. Houston is fortunate to have two of these airworthy B-17 planes in short driving distance: one is at the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston, and the other is owned by the Texas Raiders and is located at the David Wayne Hooks Airport in Spring, Texas.

Right waist gunner position in the Texas Raiders B-17
Right waist gunner position in the Texas Raiders B-17, flying over Lake Conroe. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

You can schedule flights in the B-17 bombers through both Texas Raiders and the Lone Star Museum, but typically only at airshows or other events. Check Texas Raiders or the Lone Star Flight Museum sites for scheduling information. Cost for my ride: $475. If you want either the navigator or bombardier seats in the nose of the plane, expect to pay nearly double.  I thought about this, but figured sitting anywhere on this warbird would be amazing. I took the radio operator’s seat, and I think I made the right call. Once the navigator and bombardier were seated, they had to stay there for the entire flight, while the rest of us roamed the plane once we were at cruising altitude.

I am not quite sure what I expected the flight experience to be like . . . I did think it would be much rougher. As we were given instructions before the flight, they said we would be able to walk around in the fuselage. In the catwalk over the bomb bay doors, there were ropes to hold onto — and they warned us not to grab the cables — . Yeah, that would be bad, since those cables allow the pilot to control the rudder of the plane.

Oh, and if you drop something on the bomb bay doors, just leave it there. Since, I don’t know, the doors are designed to open with a 100 lb. weight. Check. I envision a middle-age women being dropped into a back yard in the suburbs. Hhmm. If this is a rough flight, maybe I should just stay seated . . . Yeah, no. This didn’t happen 🙂 — I crawled all over the plane. Even considered getting into the ball gun turret, but it was so tight, I think I’d still be in there.

Moving around in the bomber once we were up in the air was easy — the B-17 was very stable. I walked along the catwalk over the bomb bay doors to get up to the cockpit. No concerns. The pilots seemed to have everything in hand, so I headed back to the waist gunner positions. What great views!

Left waist gunner position B-17 flying fortress
Left waist gunner position on the B-17. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Short video of the flight:

I had such a great time with the Texas Raiders and their B-17. If you are thinking about taking a ride in a World War II airplane, I highly recommend this experience — not only was the flight amazing, but it’s great knowing that the cost of the flight helps preserve this Flying Fortress.

What’s next for me? Well, I’ll be watching the Texas Raider website for their 2017 schedule . . . and I’m thinking my next flight might be in their Navy biplane trainer, the Yellow Peril . . .

Navy Canary Bi-plane
Naval N3N, often called a Canary or Yellow Peril. Open cockpit biplane trainer built by the Naval Aircraft Factory in the 1930’s. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

If you have pictures, videos, or blog posts about WWII warbirds, please feel free to share them in the comment section below!

*** Lead image of the B-17 Flying Fortress, photograph, Ann Fisher.

Post publishing note: My ride on the B-17 was a form of time travel, and the connection for me was real and very meaningful. I’ve already had emails from several people saying they are thinking about giving one of these flights as a Christmas gift. To me, experiences like this are the most wonderful gifts you can give. I hope that my review of my flight on the Texas Raiders B-17 Bomber might convince you to give it a try!


Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

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