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Air power

B-17 wows history buffs, old-timers during visit to Medford airport

For the first time, Richard McCalahan got to touch a B-17 bomber just like the one his brother died in during World War II.

McCalahan, of Phoenix, was only 9 years old in 1943 when his oldest brother, Lloyd Allan, was killed in a crash at Calbresto Peak, N.M.

He was testing, flying out of Texas and they hit a storm, he said.

Although he's seen B-17s flying overhead and in movies, he'd never touched or been in one of the legendary planes until Thursday when he joined others at Medford's airport for walk-through tours of the old bomber that helped win the war in Europe.

— I don't see how anyone moved in there, Claudia McCalahan said of the plane's cramped, minimalist interior.

Jerry Baird could answer that question. He flew in B-17s when he was an aviation cadet during the war.

I flew in the nose, he said as he gazed at the relatively small, four-engine plane that sports a clear plastic screen at the front. I remember how exhilarating it was during take-off.

A B-17 crew had eight to 10 airmen ' about half of them manning full-time the plane's bristling guns that gave it its fabled flying fortress name. Many of the other crewmen had dual roles, like the radio operator who also took a gunner position when needed.

I'd love to fly in one again, but &

36;400 is too rich for my blood, Baird said of the fee for short flights in the plane.

Thirty-minute rides are available today with a &

36;400 donation to the Collings Foundation, the nonprofit group that brought the restored plane to Medford. The foundation's B-17G costs several thousand dollars an hour to fly and maintain, and the pilot needs a minimum number of donors to take off on a joyride. Tours cost &

36;8 for adults and &

36;4 for children.

Two historic planes were supposed to be in Medford this week, but the foundation's B-24J Liberator ' another legendary WW II bomber ' is in Chico, Calif., having its landing gear fixed, said Mac McCauley of Seal Beach, Calif., a pilot and mechanic for the planes.

We make 140 stops in 38 states in 10 and a half months, McCauley said. The B-17 will be available for tours until — p.m. today and the plane will depart for Corvallis around 2 p.m.

The B-17G in Medford is a restoration version of 909, the luckiest airplane in the 8th Airborne, McCauley said.

It went on 140 missions, never turned back, never aborted a mission and never lost any crew, he said. Everything is original. I get to fly a piece of history every day.

Bill Faris, of Medford, was a B-17 crew chief during World War II. Although he never went overseas, he worked on many B-17s.

They could get shot all to pieces and still fly, he said in amazement. It was a very dependable aircraft, but we lost an awful lot of them.

Of the nearly 13,000 B-17s built, about one-third of them were shot down, Baird said. For years in their most romanticized role they faced attacks from nimble Nazi fighters and plowed through walls of anti-aircraft flak to drop bombs on Germany in countless daylight raids. The B-17 has been immortalized in many movies, most recently in Memphis Belle.

I love to see them and I love to fly these things, Faris said.

Reach news intern Jaci Schneider at 776-4471.

Visitors line up for a chance to tour a B-17G Flying Fortress parked at Medford?s airport on Thursday. The plane tours the country offering visitors the chance to see and touch a piece of World War II history. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli