UPDATE: The Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum announced on Aug. 2 that the B-17 Bomber tour has been cancelled in Abbotsford and Victoria, due to additional time being needed to complete repair work.
For aeronautics fans and history buffs a rare piece of history will be offered for sights and flights at the Abbotsford Airshow in early August.
One of eight Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers still flying will be making an appearance at the show, and will be showcased for tours from Aug. 6 to 12.
For a lucky few, at a cost of US$425 (C$560) for a regular seat and US$800 (C$1,120) for a front seat, “Sentimental Journey” will even take flight.
Sentimental Journey is a B-17G, the last and most prolific make of the B-17 series, made in 1944 and accepted into the U.S. army in 1945, according to Mike Mueller, ride program manager for the Arizona Commemorative Armed Forces, the organization bringing the Flying Fortress to the air show.
“Never saw combat, but stayed in service in various roles until about 1952,” he said.
“She was then purchased by Arrow Union, which was a company that did firefighting, and for 18 years she was tanker 18. She was a firefighter all up and down the West Coast, and I suspect into British Columbia as well.
“She was still a tanker when we acquired her, and we have restored her to flying status. We’ve been flying her for over 15 years, 16 years at least. And she’s been restored as much as possible to what she would have looked like as a World War II bomber.”
Mueller said the B-17 was best known for “being able to take a lot of combat damage and still be able to come home,” but he added a flight in the plane is a little bare bones compared to your average flight today.
“It’s quite a visceral experience. They’re quite loud, a lot of vibration. There’s no insulation, so the only thing between you and the engines is a little skin. So it’s quite an experience to fly in these aircraft,” he said.
“You get two receptions — people go through it (or) they go through and they say, ‘I can’t believe it was so small’ because Hollywood makes it look a lot bigger. After people come down from a flight, everybody is amazed at the experience.”
But people going up in a flight now have it easy compared with WWII combatants – they fly only about 1,000 feet in the air compared to about 25,000 feet, where it is about -35 C, not to mention the hazards of war.
But despite the less complex nature of the aircraft compared with current airplanes, Mueller said it has taken a lot to get the plane airworthy and to maintain it.
“She gets a lot of love. The CAF is an all-volunteer organization. Out of about 400-some members, we’ve got four people that are paid employees,” he said. “All of our mechanics are volunteers. All of us that run the ride program and crew the airplane are all volunteers. For us, it’s a labour of love.”
The aircraft has a crew of about 30-40 mechanics regularly working on it and gets pulled from commission six weeks a year for inspections and maintenance.
Just this year, crews replaced one of the nearly 75-year-old plane’s engines to have the old engine rebuilt at a cost of around $85,000.
The plane will be arriving in Abbotsford ahead of the air show, and will be available for tours.
Tours will run from 2 to 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 6, and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday.
On Friday, tours will run 3 to 10:30 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday they will run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cost is $10 per person or $20 for a family of four and free during the air show.
As well, during the air show, from Friday to Sunday, the Commemorative Armed Forces will offer something extra special for about 32 people.
Sentimental Journey will take eight people to the skies for a historic experience in four flights throughout the weekend.
That includes a Friday afternoon flight, a Saturday evening flight and two Sunday flights.
More information and tickets can be found at the CAF website at azcaf.org.