MERIDIANVILLE, Ala. – The Huntsville Executive Airport tarmac looks a little bit different this week. A step back in time as vintage World War II aircraft wait to be toured by Tennessee Valley residents.
More than three quarters of a century later, one B-17 Flying Fortress is still soaring through the air, an airborne relic. Now, it’s carrying paying customers instead of servicemen.
“There are only four B-17s still flying around the United States and this is one of them. there are fewer and fewer every year,” historian and flight crew member Kevin Michels said.
The B-17, along with an AT-6 Texan, is piloted by the Gulf Coast wing of the Commemorative Air Force, better known as the Texas Raiders.
“We fly this aircraft from point A to point B trying to inspire, honor and teach people about the sacrifices the World War II generation did for all of us,” Director Howard Quoyeser said.
Quoyeser said it’s important for people to experience the aircrafts themselves; to touch what they formerly had only seen on paper.
“The people that flew these aircraft were 19-year old boys. That was the average age. It’s important to honor and respect your elders, and thank them for the work they did not only for their generation in the world, but all the subsequent generations that followed,” Quoyeser said.
One special visitor who’s flown to further depths than most of the population in her lifetime came to connect with her father’s memory. He was a World War II veteran. Former U.S. Astronaut Jan Davis said her father flew B-17 Bombers just like the one she took a ride in that day.
His plane was shot down and he became a Prisoner of War.
She said being in the air, experiencing flight in the same type of plane her father had, was emotional. It was also eye-opening in terms of technology. She said she landed with even more respect for the World War II pilots, seeing the tools they had to use to navigate the skies.
“It’s really amazing in my lifetime how far aviation has come and space flight and how much technology that we have now through the advancement in aviation,” Davis said.
The group will be hosting the exhibit for one more day, wrapping up their last tours and flights at 3 p.m. on Thursday, May 20.