, Newburyport, MA


August 16, 2007

B-17 Aluminum Overcast to land in Lawrence this weekend

During World War II, thousands of pilots flew B-17 bombers over targets in Europe and the Pacific Ocean. About two-thirds returned from those missions in planes dubbed "The Flying Fortress."

Today, about a dozen of those famous planes still fly, and one of them - the B-17G Aluminum Overcast - will land in Lawrence this weekend for flights and tours thanks to the Experimental Aircraft Association.

"We certainly could keep the airplane in our museum," said EAA spokesman Dick Knapinski. "But airplanes are meant to fly. We wanted to take it out and share this piece of flying history with a lot of people."

The Aluminum Overcast has been restored and on tour since 1994, making several trips to this area. It's about 95 percent authentic to its composition in 1945, when it rolled off the assembly line. The 5 percent difference results from technological improvements to meet the air requirements of today, like a modern radio, for instance.

In World War II, a crew of 10 would fly the plane into battle armed with 13 Browning .50 caliber rifles. The plane normally carried 8,000 pounds in bombs, though it could carry a maximum of 17,600 pounds if fitted with special external racks.

The Aluminum Overcast was sold to a private individual after the war for $750. It was donated to the EAA in the early 1980s and restored over the next decade.

Today the plane visits dozens of cities across the country for flights, with the cost ranging from $359 to $425 for 45 minutes, and ground tours ranging from $6 to $10. In flight, passengers can roam the plane taking pictures from its glass nose and other scenic points.

Even airplane enthusiasts find a few surprises when they actually see the B-17. It's smaller than most believe - with a height of 19 feet, length of 74 feet and a wingspan of 103 feet. It also sounds rather unique, especially to a generation that is accustomed to jet-engined planes. The Aluminum Overcast boasts four propeller engines.

"It's a unique sound," said Knapinski. "There is a certain roar or rumble when that airplane comes around."

If you go

* What: Tour of B-17 bomber Aluminum Overcast

* When: Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Flights run daily from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., every 45 minutes. Tours are daily from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

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