The Experimental Aircraft Association’s B-17G World War II-era aircraft will be on exhibit through Sunday at North Little Rock Municipal Airport, and rides in the historic aircraft are available.
The EAA’s B-17 is one of 15 examples still in airworthy condition, and two of the volunteers keeping it that way are Bill Hooten and Tim Tyler, both of Greenbrier. Hooten and Tyler are two of a handful of volunteer crew chiefs who spend a few weeks a year travelling with the aircraft and maintaining and repairing the airframe and its four Wright Cyclone 1,200 horsepower turbocharged radial engines.
Though tours cost only a few dollars per person, rides in the aircraft aren’t cheap — but neither is maintaining a machine that’s been out of production for half a century, according to Tyler, and the EAA’s B-17 is kept in the air largely by donations and ride proceeds.
"There’s probably at least five hours worth of maintenance for every hour that it’s flown, and it takes two crew chiefs pretty much full-time keeping it airworthy every year before it goes back to Oshkosh (Wi.) for the winter, where they do the major overhauls," Tyler said.
One man who was a passenger on the aircraft’s first flight from North Little Rock on Friday was Dub Toombs, a World War II veteran who said that his flight on Friday had been more pleasant than his last flight in a B-17 over Germany in September 1944, when he served on the crew of a B-17 as a technician and gunner with the 8th Air Force.
"This trip brought back a lot of experience," Tombs said. "I didn’t have to worry about fighters and flak — just enjoy the surrounding countryside and it was a beautiful flight."
Tyler said seeing the experiences of veterans like Toombs and their descendants "just give me a great sense of pride to be able to do that."
"It’s just a flying historical monument to the veterans of World War II, and I see a lot of them get emotional when they fly on it," Tyler said. "Some of them cry sometimes from all the memories and emotions coming back, and their sons and daughters and grandkids who fly talk about how their daddy or their granddaddy flew right here and tell stories to each other and reminisce; it’s just a great sense of pride, and it’s not many people who get to fly in something like this."
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached at 505-1238 or by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit.)