Afternoon at the Airshow

B17  Catwalk
I went to Truax Field to see a display of World War II planes. It was a chilly day, but a good-sized crowd turned out.

The centerpiece of the show was a B-17 Flying Fortress, a huge bomber that was essential to the Allied war effort. Visitors were invited to climb a metal ladder into the plane’s flight deck where the pilot and copilot sat.

Moving aft through the fuselage, I maneuvered my way along a narrow catwalk in the bomb bay. Next came the radio compartment and the waist-gunners’ machine guns. Looking down, I could see the metal dome that served as the entrance to the ball-turret suspended beneath the plane.

airshow-2
The airman at that station could swivel the turret around and fire machine guns at enemy fighters. But he also was vulnerable to being shot at. If you saw the movie, Memphis Belle, you might remember Sean Aston’s character hanging in the air beneath the plane. If you know Randall Jarrell’s famous poem, you can imagine the danger.

            I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
            When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Exiting the bomber by another metal ladder, I was greeted by a short, white-haired man standing on the tarmac. I checked out the underside of the plane where the ball-turret hung like a metal scrotum. The space inside was so minimal it was hard to imagine anyone squeezing in there.

B17 Outside
I turned back to the white-haired usher. I commented that only a small crewman could fit in that turret. The usher, who stood the same 5’ 5” as me, nodded.

“You and I would have worked that position.”

Copyright 2016 by Brian Dean Powers

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8 thoughts on “Afternoon at the Airshow

  1. Sounds like a fascinating visit! I read somewhere recently that the ball turret was in fact the safest place to be. Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

    A

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  2. Its a timely post Brian. There was a feature on the BBC News here last night about The Guinea Pig Club, as they were called. They were British and allied air force crew who received burn injuries. Some of the men are in their 90s. Seeing aircraft like the ones you were on helps to bring back a flick of the horror it must have been.
    JP

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  3. You come off much taller on your blog. There was a long description of that ball turret in Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. And of course who can forget Luke Skywalker gunning asteroids from the turret in the Millennium Falcon. Sounds like a neat exhibit.

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    1. An excellent exhibit indeed, and some of the planes still fly. In fact, visitors could go up for a ride in the Flying Fortress for about $500. It was wild seeing and hearing that plane in the air over my neighborhood.

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