Bomber takes WWII vet down memory lane

Published: Friday, May 30 2008 12:03 a.m. MDT

Crew member Bill Hooten gives the OK to pilot Sam Bass as he starts the engines on a WWII-era B-17 Flying Fortress bomber at the Ogden-Hinckley Airport Thursday. It will be on display through Sunday.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

OGDEN — Salt Lake City resident Newell "Newt" Moy, 87, swears he's not an emotional man. But Thursday was a different story.

He got a phone call last night from a friend who suggested he might like to go to Ogden to see the B-17 bomber, Aluminum Overcast. Moy's visit ended up being more a like a trip down memory lane.

In 1939, Moy was 18 and had just graduated from high school. He lived in Galaway, N.Y., at the time.

"I was sitting in the back of a combine with all that ragweed and dust — and an airplane flies overhead," he said. "I said to myself, there has to be something better than this."

In September, he decided "better" was enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Moy went to flight school, and by January 1945, he was a pilot stationed in England during World War II. One of his most memorable missions was a flight into Barth, Germany, to pick up some of the 9,000 American POWs who had just been released from a prison camp there.

Moy had flown a B-17 during the war, so he was excited to see the Aluminum Overcast, but when he saw the large, black triangle with a "W" painted on the tail, he could only say "it was a bit emotional." That insignia represents the 398th Bomb Group with which he served. The triangle represents the 1st Air Division. Each group was marked with a different letter, Moy said.

Boeing designed the B-17 specifically for the military in 1935, and it was first used in combat during 1941. The plane came to be known as the Flying Fortress and had a key role in winning the war.

The aircraft itself weighs about 40,000 pounds. It was designed to carry 8,000 pounds of bombs. It has a capacity for 1,700 gallons of fuel, which would have weighed nearly 12,000 pounds.

It is powered with four large motors that roar so loudly it is nearly impossible to hear another person speaking near the cockpit without special equipment.

The B-17 was armed with 13 Browning M-2 .50-caliber machine guns. Gunners could fire about 13 rounds per second, but none had more than a minute's supply of ammunition.

Almost 13,000 B-17s were built during the war, but only about a dozen remain.

The Aluminum Overcast was a later version, delivered to the Army Air Corps on May 18, 1945. It was sold from Army Air Corps surplus for just $750 in 1946. The original military armament had been removed, and it was used to haul cargo for aerial mapping and crop dusting. It never saw combat.

It was donated to the Experimental Aircraft Association in the 1980s. Bill Hooton is a crew chief and mechanic for EAA. Since they acquired the plane, members and volunteers have restored much of the military equipment with which it was originally fitted.

Hooton said the B-17s are constructed with a tail wheel, making it a challenge to fly. "It doesn't just drive itself like if you had a nose wheel," he said. "It kind of wants to turn itself around."

In addition, Hooton said all controls are manual. Cables to operate the tail run from front to rear.

Sam Bass is one of the pilots flying the Aluminum Overcast this weekend as part of a "Salute to Veterans Tour."

"The reason we do this is for the veterans," said Bass. "They are fast fading away." The EAA takes this tour through the country so that people can catch a glimpse of history. The public can see the Aluminum Overcast at Hinckley Airport in Ogden today through Sunday.

Flights can be purchased if booked in advance. For more information, visit www.b17.org.


E-mail: amacavinta@desnews.com

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