The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 09, 2019 1:00 am

Thousands flock to see B-17

WWII-era bomber popular attraction for air show guests


It was a plane that brought Dan O'Banion to the Fort Wayne Air Show on Saturday.

No, he didn't ride in one.

He just wanted a chance to get inside the vintage World War II-era B-17 on display – the type of plane that played a big role in the European Theater leading up to, during and after D-Day.

The 75th anniversary of D-Day was marked last week with great fanfare by the international community, which honored the soldiers, sailors and flyers who took the beaches of Normandy in France in the pivotal battle to defeat Nazi Germany.

O'Banion, 54, of Huntington wanted to be among those to pay respects.

“It started the bombing in the European campaign which got the ball rolling” for D-Day, he said of the plane while waiting to board. “It was important because it was a daytime bomber. The English only flew at night.”

By noon, thousands of people already had come out to Baer Field to view historic planes and watch military demonstrations and stunt flying. Organizers expect more than 80,000 people to attend before the show closes at 4:15 p.m. today. Gates open at 8 a.m. and general admission is free. 

The air show is the first in Fort Wayne since 2016, with the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard hosting.  

Nickolas Smith, 42, a volunteer with the Texas Raiders Air Wing of Conroe, Texas, said the B-17 Flying Fortress on display did not see service during the war. Indeed, he said, no flying B-17s that were in the war exist today.

“Most were scrapped and remained in Europe, but there were many that were still on the factory floor,” and some were made after the war, Smith said.

The plane at the air show was one of those made after the war but still needed extensive restoration, he said. 

Painted Army green and dubbed the Texas Raiders – with a pretty woman sitting on a bomb as signature decoration – the plane is considered one of the best-restored planes of its type now flying, Smith said.

While ushering a 9-year-old boy up a ladder to the spot near the transparent front end once occupied by a navigator and bombardier, Smith said B-17s, flown out of bases in England, “were used to pummel German lines.”

The plane got the name “Flying Fortress” because they brought so many of their crews home safely. 

With the D-Day celebration, many of the people climbing aboard were visualizing how the plane served, and some had relatives connected to World War II service.

“It's a thrill and an honor to be a volunteer with these aircraft and be able to see these aircraft up close and personal,” Smith said.

Many of Saturday's aircraft were viewed from a bit farther away. But their sounds were deafening.

Four A-10 Thunderbolts participated in an exercise to “rescue” an airman stranded on the ground. The exercise featured screaming fly-bys of the spectator area. 

To add to the realism were detonations to simulate bombs and two Blackhawk helicopters, one used to airlift the person to safety.

“What you are witnessing is not so much an exhibition but a training exercise at an air show,” said Danny Clisham, show announcer.

As spectators arrived, a parachutist attached to a huge American flag was circled by two small planes. A few minutes later, a small plane engaged in a steep dive and barrel roll.

“Oh, look at that!” gasped Marcus Lee, 33, a Fort Wayne native who now lives in Plainfield. He brought his daughter, Charlotte, 5, to see the show.

“We always came to the air show when we were kids,” said Lee, whose brother, Jacob Lee, 31, is now in the Air Force.

“It's thrilling to see all the cool planes.”

If you go

What: Fort Wayne Air Show

Where: 122nd Fighter Wing, 3005 W. Ferguson Road

When: 11 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. today; gates open at 8 a.m.

Admission: General admission is free.


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