April E. Clark
Citizen Telegram Contributor
Rifle, CO Colorado

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July 18, 2012
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Ride of a lifetime

Friday, July 13, 2012, was like any other Friday the 13th for me. Except I was going to be flying in a World War II-era B-17 bomber.

When a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like that comes along, there's no time for superstition.

Driving to the Garfield County Regional Airport, where the Air Show was about to take place, I was nervous. Flying always gets me a little scared. When I was in the eighth grade, I fainted in a small four-seat plane, so I didn't know how this flight would work. Since I love an adventure and I'm a big fan of the 1940s, the flight was happening for me.

Friday the 13th or not.

I awaited the arrival of the vintage B-17 Texas Raiders bomber with mixed emotions. I was excited and somewhat nervous. I knew the massive plane, and the chance to ride in it, was rare. It is one of only 11 airworthy Flying Fortress World War II bombers left in the world - and only nine of them fly in the U.S. today.

That might not be a selling point for those fearful of flying.

The plane circled the airport before landing, and it was a site to behold. The Glen Miller Orchestra's music played in the background as the green, heavy bomber came to a stop.

"Now, that's a bad boy right there," said photographer Kelley Cox.

"Heck ya it is," I said.

And that's when I started grinning. I was going to ride in that bad boy.

Once the crew was finished with a meeting and we gathered under the wings, I found more history on the plane. Texas Raiders was the first B-17 purchased after World War II for restorative purposes. The plane flew for 10 years in the war. I couldn't wait to see its interior and get up in the air. The crew was happy to oblige.

The loadmaster, who wore a black badge with white writing that said, "Stop screaming ... I'm scared, too," gave us a safety briefing. I knew I already liked his sense of humor. The flight was going to be windy for the folks in the back and loud for everybody, he said. We were handed earplugs, then we were on our way.

"It will rumble and spit smoke, so don't be worried," he said. "There are barf bags in the radio room if you need them."

I was hoping that would not be my case.

When I stepped up into the plane, I felt like a little girl on Christmas morning. I was wide-eyed and mystified. I may have even gasped. The inside of the aircraft was like taking a step back in time. Everything looked how it did in the 1940s. I noticed the machine gun first, mostly because I had never seen one up close, especially on an aircraft. I would ride in the back for take-off, with two members of the crew. They fired up the engines, and I snapped on my seat belt, feeling a sense of awe that so much power was rumbling all around me.

I felt as cool as the Fonz.

I sat in front of the open window, where the side gunner once unloaded the machine gun with precision, and peered outward at the crowd below us. I still couldn't believe I was going up in a B-17 bomber. After slowly cruising on the runway, we gained some speed and took off smoothly. Once in the air, we were able to walk into the radio room and the cockpit.

That didn't make me nervous at all.

The radio room still had the headphones, radio receivers, and oxygen controls used on the plane's many military missions. I imagined what it would have been like to fly into a war zone. The fear overcame me, and I was only taking a joyride. The service men's bravery still lingered in the air, reminding me of my grandfather, who fought in World War II. I felt honored and humbled by their sacrifices. I privately thanked Grandpa for his service, and for his patriotism.

There is no question he loves America with all his heart.

I moved up into the cockpit where the view of the Bookcliffs was breathtaking. I had to sit for a moment just to catch my breath. I popped my head into the ball turret and pretended to shoot the machine gun. I imagined how the ball turret gunner felt up there, adrenaline and love of country coursing through his veins.

The half-hour ride was so intense I forgot all about Friday the 13th and my own fears of flying.

I thought more about the veterans of the Texas Raiders B-17 bomber and what went through their heads when they were on a mission. Maybe they wished to be back in the arms their wives or girlfriends. I'm sure they missed their mothers, no matter their age, like I do. I thought about their families on the ground praying for their safety as they flew out for raids, tuning their radios to hear the latest on a war that seemed to never end.

As we smoothly landed and relief overcame me, I silently saluted the Texas Raiders crews - from the last 70 years - and shook the hands of the skilled pilots who flew that bad boy.

I'll never forget the Friday the 13th when I rode in a B-17 bomber at the Garfield County Air Show.

And the men and women who have served, and continue to protect, the USA.

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The Post Independent Updated Jul 18, 2012 05:33PM Published Jul 18, 2012 05:25PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.