What could be more patriotic over the Fourth of July weekend than to take a ride in a B17? My husband Keith took a ride at Springfield’s Capital Airport when Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) brought the B-17 Flying Fortress, Aluminum Overcast, to town this past Sunday morning, July 2nd.
When Keith was 14, he started working for Bob Reichert, farming and Bob instilled a love of flying in Keith. My husband already had a love of history, and this ride in the Aluminum Overcast offered both! The plane is such good shape because it missed the war. The Aluminum Overcast was built May 18, 1945 in Burbank, California by Lockheed – Vega under license from Boeing. Chuck Hoeppner with the EAA explained, “It was completed and went to Cheyenne, Wyoming for outfitting, then was sent it for storage. This airplane has worked all its life early 40’s 50’sand 60’s. It did aerial mapping in the Middle East and Far East.”
Hoeppner explained that the Aluminum Overcast’s last job was spraying fire ants in Alabama. After she was out of a job, a man named Bill Harrison saw the plane and bought it. The plane was restored with the help of World War II hero Hal Weekley. When the plane went up for its second restoration, the 398th Bomb Group sponsored the restoration in the Bomb Groups colors.
Hal Weekley was a pilot during World War II and for years flew for the EAA. When Aluminum Overcast was restored, the second time, it was with the markings and identification of the 601st Bomb Squadron ship that Hal and his crew were flying when they were shot down over France on August 13, 1944.
While Hal has passed on, his legacy still remains with this plane and the story of his war service and downed plane. Chuck Hoeppner told me the story of this amazing war hero. “Air craft commander Hal Weekely’s plane went down over France and Hal was rescued by a French farmer. He stayed on that farm and dressed himself to resemble a farmer’s son until 3rd week in July when Allied Forces could get him out. When they left he still had his standard GI ID bracelet. The farmer told him, ‘You can’t take that’, so he gave it to the farmer. When he got home he was the guy that started this (Aluminum Overcast restoration) program.”
Chuck continued, “In 1994 on the 50th anniversary of D-Day Hal and his squadron mates went back to base and had a reunion. Hal went to France, found the farm he stayed at. The farmer’s daughter answered. She remembered the whole story. Her older brother ran the farm but he was away, so Hal went back to England. When he got back to Atlanta, there was a box and it was his GI bracelet. Hal stayed with us until he was 80,our program says at 80 you have to stop flying as a line pilot. He was an amazing man.”
I looked up Hal Weekley and he is so fascinating that he is even the subject of a book. Read about him to learn more about his role in WWII and with the EAA. When you take a ride you are helping with the EAA funding and get a chance to join this wonderful organization.
As for the EAA, the purpose of bringing planes like the Aluminum Overcast to airports across the country is to share the history of this virtual flying museum. When the plane was donated to the EAA in the early 90’s, thankfully for people that love planes like Keith, the donation with the caveat, “that it would fly as long as mechanically and financially possible offering a traveling history of WWII.”
Keith’s flight lasted about half an hour and he had the time of his life. Like one of the EAA volunteers said, “It is going to take some coarse sand paper to wipe the smile off his face when he lands.”
The gentleman was right! The Aluminum Overcast plane is housed at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. If you get a chance to see this beauty from the past, take the time. Learn about her history and how she and other planes and young fliers like Hal allow us to be free this 4th of July 2017.