This near-perfect B-17 sitting on the ramp at the Indy Air Show is 'Yankee Lady' from the Yankee Air Museum in Belleville, Michigan, just outside of Ypsilanti. In addition to being on display, this WWII bomber was scheduled to do a fly-over of Victory Field, the home of the Indianapolis Indians minor-league baseball team on Friday evening June 11th. I found out on Thursday that I was given the golden opportunity to be one of the people INSIDE the airplane for the fly-over!
This picture is from earlier in the day on Friday, the opening media and practice day of the Indy Air Show. After the scheduled airshow flying ended for the day, the weather got windy and it looked liked some storms might pass thru. It was a little uncertain for being able to make the fly-over flight. Fortunately, better skies arrived well ahead of the approximate 6:30pm departure time. I was really glad to see that : )
The crew had all of the riders collected and gathered around the airplane as we waited to board. Since it was plenty warm outside, and would have been very hot inside sitting on the ramp, they had us stay outside, close to the airplane. It made for another good chance to get more pix. I've never looked at a B-17 like I did in that next few minutes. Knowing I'd soon be riding inside changed my perspective... the history and meaning of an airplane like this became more real than it ever has before.
The pilots were getting things squared away in the cockpit... first for the airplane in general, and second for the details of this specific flight which had us also sharing the sky over the stadium with 3 of the aerobatic airplanes from the airshow. They were gonna fly a circle of smoke around the park and then they'd clear out and we'd make a pass right overhead.
I like using my still camera on a monopod to get a very different perspective on airplanes. I simply use the self timer to release the shutter, and the pix come out really nice! It's a very poor-man's way to add a lot of punch to the photos.
This pic shows how the monopod can be put to use. You get a great view of the nose turret which I thought was kinda cool to see from this angle. I had no idea that about 30 minutes later I would be sitting right on the other side of that plexi as the guy they decided to put in the only spot on the airplane that's actually in front of the cockpit. Honestly, I'm still having a hard time believing that I a rode in a B-17, and even more that I was sitting in the nose!
Here's the view out one of the left side windows in the bombardier area where I was seated. BTW, I kept shaking my head at this point wondering if this was really happening! I also had a small video camera with me but unfortunately I don't think there's gonna be much usable from it. More on that later when I put together a second and much more detailed post about riding in Yankee Lady.
Here we are in the air, heading over the edge of Indianapolis on our way to downtown. This is a good time to say: if this had just been a simple ride around the pattern in a B-17, it would have been awesome. But this ride was so much more than that! Not only was I riding up front where I could see EVERYTHING, but we were flying about 1,500 feet above the ground heading right for downtown Indianapolis... again I'm wondering if this is all a dream : )
While I was the only one sitting in the nose for take off and landing, we were allowed to move all around once in the air. That gave others the chance to see out the front, but it also gave me a chance to move all over finding good places to point a camera thru. There were several.
This picture is from the large blister over the gunner station right behind the cockpit. You have to climb up a bit to see out of it, so you get a little different view of looking 'down' onto the wing from here. You can also tell that we have some bank angle here. We made quite a few turns as the fly-over timing was worked out, and a couple of those turns were pretty tight ones too. We spent about 10 minutes flying just outside of downtown as the akro guys were over the baseball field. During this time I was able to move around to several different locations for fresh camera perspectives.
Here we're looking over the arm and shoulder of flight engineer Norm Elleckson at pilot Dave Cobaugh and co-pilot Ray Hunter. The cockpit layout is a little unusual for several reasons, but I'm gonna save those details for an extended post on this ride in the near future. I will say that they did a fabulous job of flying the airplane and the whole crew made us all feel right at home. They all represented the Yankee Air Museum really well. Thank you men.
This pic isn't the sharpest view of the pilot and co-pilot, but we had overcast skies, I was shooting thru a small plexi blister on the top of the fuselage, and they were in a somewhat dark cockpit. Having said all that, this is essentially my favorite picture from the whole trip. It's in seeing this picture that my strongest thoughts about the men who fought in WWII are brought to life. To be looking right into the faces of men guiding a crew off to do battle is a very powerful experience for me. While it's easy for us today to look at an airplane like this and think it's 'cool', it's far more important to understand the fear, pain, death and courage that was experienced by the people who did battle.
Here's another amazing view to see. There's a plexi hatch about half way back the airplane, right in front of where the vertical fin starts. They had decided that the chance of rain was small so they removed the hatch to give us some better cabin airflow. The hole the hatch covers is pretty large, so it has some bars that run across it to keep you from climbing out, falling out, or doing anything else undesirable. It made an incredible place to stick your head out of and look around. It was especially stunning to be looking right down the vertical fin at the world moving away from us. It was even more stunning to have that world be downtown Indianapolis as this pic shows : )
And here's a fabulous view of downtown where you can see Victory Field in the lower left and Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Colts play, on the right. This picture was also taken thru the hatch opening. How cool (and crazy) is it that I'm riding in a B-17 looking at downtown Indy with my head stuck out a hole on the top of the airplane? Wow.
After we had completed the fly-over, we headed straight back to the Mt. Comfort Airport. I was back up in the nose as we made a pass over the airshow grounds. We were also flying formation at this time with two of John Klatt's airplanes and Billy Werth in his Pitts... the akro guys who had been over the ballpark with us. I'll have more info and pix of all that in the extended post yet to come.
I'll also have a lot more details to share about the entire experience. It was all such a huge blessing to me, and I'd like to thank Roger Bishop and all of the Indy Air Show staff and volunteers for the opportunity. And of course, the Yankee Air Museum and the dedicated crew of people that keep this important part of American history flying. You're all the best!