B-17 Aluminum Overcast

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Had an opportunity to catch the B-17 Aluminum Overcast on their 2011 tour in Hayward California. Aluminum Overcast is a beautifully restored B-17G-VE operated by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). They tour the country offering guests a rare chance to tour or fly in this historical heavy WWII bomber.
Nikon D300 w/ Sigma 150-500mm OS lens, 18-105mm VR lens, Nikon D200 - Bernard Zee

Here's Aluminum Overcast taking off from the Hayward Executive Airport. This is the first time I've been able to be positioned at the end of the runway for a B-17 take off, and I was very excited to see what I would get.

The Hayward stop for the Aluminum Overcast wasn't a higly publicized event, and it was by chance that I remembered they were in town. Having blown Saturday, I only had Sunday to work with.

I had a game plan to get a variety of shots from different angles all laid out. It was going to be great!

Little did I know, that I would only have one opportunity to photograph this beautiful plane in flight. Due to whatever circumstances, this year's tour was really underbooked. There were only enough paying passengers for one flight Sunday.

Morning light was a bit tough from the end of the runway, as the plane was mostly backlit until it got alongside.

A tail view of the B-17 as he levels off after banking left on take off.

After the takeoff, I got back in the car, and repositioned myself to catch the landing.

The difference between take off and landing can be seen by the wing flaps. Also, I can get a LOT closer to the plane when its landing!

It was a pretty cloudy and windy day, but there were bits of blue skies like in this shot.

A really dramatic shot, as the roar of the B-17G's 4 raidal engines begins to get my attention.

It's a fantastic rush to have the big 4 engined bomber pass overhead so close!
Click the play button below to hear that nice round sound!

Wanted to try that shot again, this time with a wide angle - but alas, it was to be the only flight of the day. Here's Aluminum Overcast just touching down on the main runway of Hayward Airport.

After noticing that they shut the plane down, I made my way over to where they were parked.

Probably because it was not a well publicized event, there were not many people there to tour the plane. Some of them had flown on the plane earlier, or were relatives of those who had flown.

The nose art of of Aluminum Overcast was on the left side only.

This particular B-17 was produced in 1945, but too late to see any action in WWII.

Sold as surplus in 1946 for only $750, the plane flew cargo, aerial mapping, pest control, and forest dusting missions. Purchased by Dr. Bill Harrison in 1978, and donated to the EAA in 1983, the plane underwent extensive restoration over a period of 10 years to return it to its WWII configuration.

Painted in the colors of the 398th Bomb Group, Aluminum Overcast commemorates B-17G #42-102515 which was shot down over France in 1944.

Much of the original military equipment was removed when the plane was sold as surplus. Restoration included returning the Norden bombsight, navigator's position, waist guns, radio compartment, tail turret assembly, and replica top turret.

This is the inside view of the bombardier nose position. Two staggered .50 cal cheek nose guns can be seen here.

Left view of the bombardier spot. Really cramped in there, must be hunched over all the time. The Navigator sits behind the bombardier a the table on the left.

The Bendix Chin turret was remotely sighted by the bombardier.

Zoomed view of the Norden bombsight.

Control cables under the cockpit.

Hydraulic pump.

Fuel selector switch.

Cockpit view of the B-17.

Closeup of the instrument guages.

The B-17 Flying Fortress logo on the control column.

View of the main magneto / cowl flap switch box.

Another view of the overall cockpit area.

Pilot's seat is on the left.

Throttle controls for the 4 engines.

Co-pilot on the right.

The bomb bay seperates the cockpit and top turret area from the radio compartment and the back of the plane.

View behind the bomb bay.

Radio operator position.

Oxygen regulator

Transmitter tuning unit.

Radio transmitter.

The ball turret yoke assembly.

While the ball turret position is cramped and lonely, casualty rates were not higher than any other position.

An external view of the ball turret.

The ball turret gunner would normally not enter the position until the aircraft was in flight. Access was thru this hatch, with the guns pointing straight down.

Once inside, the ball turret gunner would be in a curled up position, sighting the guns between his legs.

Towards the back section of the plane are where the waist gunners are located.

On the Aluminum Overcast are some beautifully complete .50 cal waist guns. Here's a closeup view of the gunsight.

The compensated gunsight takes into account speed of the plane and altitude to generate a lead.

The 2 waist guns were handheld unlike the chin, top, and lower ball positions.

A closer look at the rare K-13 gunsight on the waist machine gun. Speed and altitude settings can be seen.

Sight post.

The cable assembly helps adjust for lead to target based on rate of motion.

0.50 cal rounds of the M2 machine gun can be seen here.

An exterior view of the waist gun.

At the very end of the plane, is the tail gunner position.

Probably the most isolated position on the plane, the tail gunner didn't have any other crew member close by, and had to kneel in order to fire the tail guns.

At high altitudes, oxygen deprivation was a serious problem that the lonely tail gunner had to watch for.

The B-17G Flying Fortress was aptly named, as it carried 13 x 0.50 cal M2 Browning machine guns.

The tail gunner was a very important position, as it discouraged enemy fighters from attacking from behind.

Flying in staggered combat box formations, B-17s could cover each other well making them a dangerous target for German fighters. Attacking such a formation was like encountering a 'flying porcupine'. The disadvange of such a formation was that individual aircraft could not take evasive manuevers, which made them easy target for German flak.

Power for the B-17 came from 4x Wright R-1820-97 Cyclone turbosupercharged engines.

Each one of those radial engines put out 1,200hp. I wish my car was turbo-supercharged!

Together, they could get the B-17 up to 287mph, with a max load of 8000lbs (short range mission).

View of the main landing gear. The gear retracts up and into the engine nacelle.

The B-17 fought in WWII from the very beginning, and dropped more bombs than any other U.S. aircraft.

B-17s quickly gained the reputation for toughness, as stories and pictures of badly damaged planes that still made it home were circulated.

Flying Fortresses were mainly used for daylight precision bombing against German industrial and military targets.

Of the 12,732 B-17s produced, 4735 were lost in combat.

A period accurate jeep drives by the bomber.

Not too many B-17s left in airworthy condition now. Probably less than 15 still take to the skies.

Takes a lot of effort and money to keep them flying though.

Proceeds from the flight experience and tours help to pay for gas and to keep the plane flying.

If you're anywhere close to one of the tour stops, I would highly recommend a visit to see the beautifully restored B-17 Aluminum Overcast. Better yet, book a flight on one! I want to do it, but have to get the kids through college first :-)