Inside the B-17 as it takes flight over western Massachusetts

Hampden County

WESTFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A B-17 Flying Fortress took flight out of Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport Thursday afternoon. 22News was on the flight to give you an inside look at the vintage bomber and some insight as to why organizations are still flying them.

The Experimental Aircraft Association, which owns the B-17 on tour in Westfield, temporarily suspended its public flights last weekend out of respect for the seven victims lost in the crash at Bradley.

“We’re obviously sorry about the tragedy at Bradley that occurred last week,” EAA tour coordinator Steven Silva said. “Like everybody else, we’re waiting for the NTSB to complete their very thorough investigation and to see what can be learned from that to enhance the safety of the operation of all of these airplanes.”

“It’s always emotional, just thinking of the people, the families,” B-17 Pilot Rick Fernalld said. “It’s just too bad, it’s a real sense of loss for us at EAA and we’ve sent our condolences to the Collings Foundation and we do feel that it was a tragedy and hopefully they’ll find out what caused the problem.”

Despite the tragedy, members of the public are still signed up for their chance to tour and fly on board the vintage World War II bomber this weekend. The aircraft’s presence at Barnes alone attracted many local residents to the airport Thursday.

“It’s so beautiful and there are so few left,” Westfield Army veteran Michael Janke said. He and his mother stopped by the airport Thursday morning to see the B-17 in person. “I’ve never seen one before. I’ve seen it in movies and as a child I used to watch all the films and see these things get beat up and still land.”

You may be wondering why these old planes are still flying. Co-pilot Tom Ewing said it’s to commemorate the sacrifices and service of our World War II veterans.

“The guys that were assigned to a bomber squadron, if they took a bunk in a bomber squadron, they took a bunk from somebody who had not made it,” Ewing said. “And that person had taken a bunk from somebody who had not made it, and that person had taken from, somebody who had not made it. Nobody was surviving.

It is just an honor for us to be able to go out and tell the story of the greatest generation. This world would be a very different place had not been for them. So that’s what we do, that’s why we’re all volunteers, that’s why the people at the Collings Foundation, all volunteers too, they had that passion for it, and it is a tragedy what happened, but we will plug on we will keep going.”

The crew at EAA understands that some people may be weary about flying in vintage aircraft after the tragedy at Bradley.

“You have to make that decision, but come on out,” the tour “Our airplane is maintained to the same standard as any other commercial passenger-carrying airplane.”

The B-17 will be at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport through Sunday. Ground tours will be available from 2-5 p.m. Friday – Sunday. The tours are free for veterans and up to $20 otherwise.

Read more about the aircraft’s history here: B-17 flying out of Westfield honors 398th Bomb Group

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