CONWAY, Ark. (KTHV) – This weekend you can tour, ride and learn about the B-17G from World War II. Rex Gray is a pilot of a B-17G that was built at the end of the war in 1945.
Experimental Aircraft Association owns and operates the aircraft. It’s a nonprofit organization that has about 180,000 members worldwide. They’re in Conway to promote aviation for the upcoming generation and to honor our veterans that served in the airplane in WWII.
During the war, there were 12,731 of these airplanes manufactured. Out of those manufactured, a third were lost in combat, and another third were lost in training accidents.
“This turned the tide of WWII in England. Turned the tide of the war, it actually was responsible for bringing the end to the war for the daylight bombing raids over Germany and Europe,” said Gray.
There were 10 crew members on the airplane. They were all teenagers. Sometimes the aircraft commander or pilot might be 21 or 22-years-old. The young men would typically go out on a mission for eight and a half, ten hours. They’d be at 25 to 30,000 feet in the air where it was 40 degrees below zero. There was no heat in the aircraft, but they had insulated flying suits. They’d fly over Germany, drop their bombs, and come back while being shot at both directions.
Gray said when they started the daylight bombing raids, there was a 30 percent chance of being shot out of the sky on one mission.
“You multiply that by 25 missions you have a pretty good chance of bailing out or being shot up,” he said.
There’s probably eight or 10 of these aircrafts that are in flying status around the country today. But flying this year, there are three or four pilots on tour around the country with different nonprofits. There are not many airplanes left because most were destroyed at the end of the war for salvage.
“That whole generation they sacrificed a lot at home to make these airplanes and then at the end of the war they had to destroy the airplanes to put that material back into our economy,” said Gray.
They’ll be at the Cantrell Field Airport in Conway November 10-12. If you come out between 2 to 5 p.m. the airplane will be open for ground tours. Those ground tours cost $10 (Individual Rate). $20 for the Family Rate (Adults/Children up to 17). Children under 8-years-old, veterans, and active military are free.
If you really want to get a feel for what those young men had to work in, you can come out and take a flight. It’s an hour-long experience. Advance flight purchases cost $409 for EAA members, nonmembers are $449. Walk-up flight costs are $439 for EAA members and $475 for nonmembers. The flight lasts about 30 minutes but they conduct a pre-flight inspection and talk about the history of the airplane, crews, etc.
“It’s an incredible experience. I’ve never seen anyone unhappy in all my years volunteering,” said Gray. Everybody out there is volunteering.
“Thanks to our WWII vets, but our current vets that are serving right now, you know. My son is in a tent over in Turkey right now flying an airplane, helicopter, rescue helicopter into Syria. And he’s one of many young men that are doing the exact same thing that these guys did many, many years ago,” said Gray. “It’s the same mission going out into enemy territory, and protecting freedoms and saving people and so I just want to say thanks to all those veterans in the past and in the future for their sacrifices.”
On Saturday, there will also be a veteran ceremony at Cantrell Field. It starts at 1 p.m. For more information, click here.