NORTON SHORES, Mich. (WOOD) — A symbol of freedom from the Greatest Generation landed on the tarmac at Muskegon County Airport on Saturday.
A bomber from World War II, known as the Flying Fortress, stopped by to give guests a first-hand look at this vital part of the war effort.
“The targets there were manufacturing facilities,” said Kevin Walsh, executive director of the Yankee Air Museum. “Infrastructure like railways, bridges, things like that. That’s what we had to do is, we had to take out those types of capabilities of the enemy in order to win the war.”
And the B-17 is no luxury aircraft.
“There’s no pressurization, there’s no heating, there’s no cooling, the skin is the thickness of a quarter,” he said. “This is a different kind of flying than what you do when you get on a Delta Airlines (plane).”
Conditions were cramped. And with COVID-19 out there, the Yankee Air Museum is allowing fewer guests on flights, requires masks and wipes every bit of the close-quarters cabin.
“It’s just wasted space if you have it convenient and comfortable,” pilot Jon Rule said. “As you can see, some of our positions in the aircraft are very tight. You don’t waste space in war machines. You can’t afford it.”
Each Flying Fortress had a crew of 10 men and the daytime bombing raids over Germany cost many American lives.
“The chances of survival were less than 50%,” Walsh said. “So, you imagine going to your job every day and your chances were less than 50% you’d actually come home.”
And among the crowd was a man who took those odds.
“The experiences — they were yours and you did the best you could with them,” said John Pylman, a WWII veteran from Grand Rapids who was a navigator on a B-17 during the war. “We had some near misses, but we survived. All of us had a job to do and we did it. And we were proud of it.”
He was barely 20 years old and gives all the credit to the B-17.
“The plane deserves it,” he said. “I’m not so sure I do, but the plane deserves it.”
There were more than 12,000 B-17s built, and at the end of the day, for the Yankee Air Museum, the whole point of this experience is to keep the memories of the Greatest Generation alive.
“Whatever sparks some inspiration in a young child or an adult today, you know, the bottom line’s right there,” Walsh said. “We hope we inspire people.”