Have you ever wondered if you were living in the wrong time frame? Or, was I really thereft Beforeft As I drove up to Spatz Field at the Reading Municipal Airport thoughts of the past flashed through my mind. I was passing areas that used to contain the barracks buildings which housed soldiers during World War II.Most of the structures are only memories even to a "kid" like me, but several still remain. I've always had an interest in aircraft and could give you descriptions of most American military aircraft, their power plants, assembly points and more.
Growing up in the post-war period when the movies and television glorified and glamorized those "real men" who fought for our freedom with bravery none of us will ever know again, I took in films like "Twelve O'clock High," "The Longest Day," "Combat!" and so many others that gave an idea of what the war was all about without the emotional connection.
Now, as I pull up to the main gate of the World War II weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, the whole area was a flashback to the early 1940s, the vehicles, the buildings and the re-enactors.
I first met with museum director, Dave Schott, who introduced me to the gentlemen of Belleville, Michigan's Yankee Air Museum. The museum arranged for my flight on the "Yankee Lady," a pristine B-17G bomber and the thirteenth to last B-17 Flying Fortress to ever be produced.
After a brief indoctrination of what to and not to touch on the flight we were about to embark upon, we boarded the silver behemoth and buckled into our cargo-net style seats.
Waiting with anticipation like a child on Christmas morning, eight passengers joined me on our "mission over Hamburg," (Pennsylvania not Germany).
Then the first of the four monstrous engines started to turn over and to sputter and rumble sending a slight vibration through the aircraft.
Very reminiscent of those movies of yesteryear, the slow cranking of the remaining three engines came to life one at a time.
A variety of thoughts passed through my head as I watched the giant propellers spin and I felt the child-like grin emerge as the bomber started to taxi toward the runway.
As the RPMs increase and the Flying Fortress starts a lumbering charge down the runway it seems as though there's a lot of noise but no action. Then without any feeling of a take-off the ground start pulling away from us.
Shortly after takeoff we could get up and explore. I gazed out the side portholes that housed the guns used to fire at enemy aircraft in the old days and quickly spotted the Berkshire Mall and the Reading Hospital and Medical Center.
In an attempt to keep my bearings on our location, I also picked out the Titus Generating Station in Cumru Township quickly followed by Boscov's East and the new shopping center construction in Exeter Township. The Eastern Industries stone quarry in Oley Township was followed by the village of Oley where I could locate my house and was later informed that my wife and granddaughter were watching the plane in return.
Shortly after that was the DEKA battery plant in Lyons Station where both of my children were at work.
The time to explore the aircraft had come as most of the other "crew," had already completed their explorations. I headed toward the front of the aircraft approaching the bomb bay racks which stood in a slight V form. The bottom was slightly wider than my foot and the top not very wide at all as I sucked in my stomach and forced my way through brushing heavily along both sides.
Passing through the communications room, I approached pilot Jon Rule of Milan, Michigan, who is a commercial pilot and co-pilot Paul Scholl a retired U.S. Navy and commercial pilot from Ann Arbor. After a brief visit I ventured through a very small hole located behind and between the pilots.
Down two steps and through a tiny tunnel beneath I reached the most unbelievable area of the aircraft.
The tiny room with a plexi-glass bubble in the nose of the aircraft was the home of the bombardier and front turret gunner. This was the real "room with a view" as I gazed to the left and right just in front of the twirling propellers and while glancing below I spotted a four-lane highway with a river running beneath it and a dam breaching the flow.
Could it be? Had we reached our mission's target? Bomb's away! We were over Hamburg.
That was I-78 and the Kernsville Dam I picked out and off to the left was Cabela's. Slowly passing over at 2,000 feet and no enemy aircraft trying to shoot us down, I could only wonder what a real bomber would have been like.
The men of WWII would have been cruising in an unpressurized aircraft at 40,000 feet, withstanding temperatures of 40 degrees below zero and utilizing oxygen. They must have been made of something special to endure those challenges.
As we continued over western Berks, I squeezed my way back through the aircraft comparing the experience with the others. One of our "crew" were wearing a pair of gloves, when I asked if they were original flight gloves he explained that his father flew on the B-17s and recently passed away. After his death the family found the gloves with other military items.
"It's the first time they've been up in over 60 years," he said.
As we started on our approach to the Bern Township airport, familiar landmarks were once again noticed and before we were ready for it, the smoothest landing I ever had already occurred.
We had no idea the wing wheels were on the ground and really didn't feel the rear wheel hit but had noticed motion on the shock absorber next to us.
After the flight we had our debriefing and received a certificate commemorating our mission back into another time. It was everything memories are made of.