Cheating Russians, Nazis and luck on a B-17

Published: Friday, Oct. 14 2011 6:52 p.m. MDT

It is the first time he has been inside a B-17 since 1950. He stands slightly below and behind the left chair — the pilot's seat he used to sit in. He points over to the opposite wall.

He said they were not as afraid of the enemy fighter planes as they were of the flak — the bursting anti-aircraft shells. They could defend against fighter planes, but there was nothing they could do about flak.

"A piece of flak came right through there," he says. "It bounced off a strut here and then off the back of my chair."

Brim talks about the co-pilot who replaced him when he became a pilot. That co-pilot had his arm cut off by flak and then bled to death. "That could have been me."

In the back of the plane, someone else has come inside and is listening to Brim. It is Matt Green, an active Army helicopter pilot. Green's late grandfather, Fred Sorenson, was a B-17 tail-gunner and ball turret gunner.

Green said his grandfather's B-17 had to make a hard emergency landing near the end of World War II. The Russians had just liberated the town. "They were just as afraid of the Russians as they were the Germans," Green says.

So to get on the good side of the Russians, they offered to fix up their plane and give it as a gift to the local Russian military leader in return for good treatment.

The Russians thought this was a great idea and allowed them to work on the plane, even letting Green's grandfather and crew take the plane for a test flight before finally handing it over.

The Russians never saw the plane again; Green's grandfather flew the plane to safety in Allied-occupied Italy.

As I leave the Aluminum Overcast behind, I walk through the hanger lobby on the way to my car. In the lobby is Gale H. "Pat" Patterson, another B-17 pilot. He missed the flight because of car troubles. I sit next to him as he talks about his B-17, named "Never Satisfied."

On his 16th and last mission over Germany, his plane was hit badly by flak. Gasoline was pouring over the plane and pooling in the bomb bay. "It was a flying bomb," Patterson says.

He gave the order to bail out. Nine men jumped out of the plane. For a moment Patterson was alone in the doomed plane, then he jumped out into the void.

"The B-17 was life or death for us. It was our lifeline," he said. "Once we had abandoned it, we felt pretty bad."

Ten men jumped out. Ten parachutes opened. Ten prisoners were taken.

Patterson spent 7 months as a POW before Gen. George S. Patton's troops liberated the prison camp.

I ask him when was the last time he was in a B-17.

"When I bailed out," he says.

"What day was that?"

"October 13, 1944. It was a Friday."

"Today is October 13."

"It is? I hadn't thought about that."

Some people come with a golf cart to bring him over to look at the plane. I ask him, with all the different B-17s that have come through the Salt Lake area over the years, why did he never come to see one before today?

"I just never got together with one. Now I think I've waited too long — I'm 91 years old," he said. And then, no doubt thinking about his "Never Satisfied," he added, "It would be fun to take another trip."

If You Go: The EAA's B-17 tour "Salute to Veterans" runs from Noon to 5 p.m. through Sunday at Leading Edge Aviation, South Valley Regional Airport, 7365 South 4450 West in West Jordan. Reserved flights are $439, walk-ups are $465. Self-guided ground tours in the plane are $5 per adult or $15 per family; children under 8 are free. Tours for active military or veterans and their spouses are free. To book a flight call 1-800-359-6217 or 920-371-2244 or go to www.b17.org.

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com TWITTER: degroote

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