World War II B-17 and P-51 Pilots Fly Together Again
Traveling the country with CAF’s heavy bombers, I’ve had the unique opportunity to meet remarkable people and witness living moments of history. Being a loadmaster on the B-17 Texas Raiders, I’ve interacted with many World War II veterans who often wish to fly one more time while others simply want to soak in the memories.
I asked a B-17 waist gunner if he wanted to go inside the bomber and he responded, “Son I just wanted to see it but I never want to step in a B-17 ever again.” I’m one of the lucky people who gets to hear the veterans tell their stories which many will never be seen published in a book. For one great event at Sun 'N Fun, I worked with the B-17 Texas Raiders crew plus the Red Tail Squadron to share a great story and honor our Greatest Generation.
After listening to B-17 veterans who served from all positions onboard the mighty warbird, you begin to understand what war was really like. I have sat with many of them in Texas Raiders listening to their stories where they show me where a bullet came through the metal almost killing them.
Throughout the long missions, B-17 flight crews suffered many losses but also survived because of their little friends called P-51 Mustangs. During the war the P-51s flew alongside the B-17s protecting them against enemy fighters. Without the help of their fighter escorts the bombers may not have accomplished their mission and the flight crews would not be with us today.
To help tell the story and relationship between the B-17 and P-51 Mustang I came up with the concept to bring the two planes together. With the help of the Red Tail Squadron and the Gulf Coast Wing, we began to coordinate this possibility of making this unique event a reality.
We discussed schedules and found that Sun ‘N Fun was the perfect opportunity to share the story of two iconic World War II planes since their theme was Honoring Veterans.
Piecing this colossal event together was no simple task. There were a lot of logistics involved but the end result during the fly-in made all the hard work worth it. During the planning of this event, we found two veterans who fit perfectly with the broader story we were trying to share.
Lt. Colonel George Hardy flew Mustangs as a Tuskegee Airman and later B-29 Superfortress bombers. He was joined by Col. Bill Brake, a 94-year old B-17 pilot who flew 22 missions over Europe while serving with the United States Army Air Corps.
On Wednesday, April 6 at Sun 'N Fun in Lakeland, Florida we scheduled a photo shoot to honor all veterans in front of the P-51 Mustang Red Nose at Hangar 57.
Military veterans who served in all branches of the military were present and had a great time. A commemorative litho for the day was set up at different areas for veterans to also sign during the entire week at Sun 'N Fun. After the photo shoot, I brought Lt. Col Hardy and Col Brake together to share their stories with the media. What transpired after their interviews was a magical and memorable moment.