EAA says B-17 tours at Barnes were a success

The B-17 ‘Aluminum Overcast’ sits on the tarmac of Barnes Regional Airport Sunday for some of the last f the ground tours for the Westfield stop. (Photo by Peter Currieor)

WESTFIELD- The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) said on Sunday that they think the Westfield B-17 flight tours out of Barnes Airport were a success despite coming on the heels of the tragic crash of the same type of plane at Bradley International Airport the week before. 

Steve Silva, the tour coordinator for the national brand of the EAA, said that they had an “average to slightly above average” number of people come to Barnes to experience a World War II bomber in flight over the weekend. 

Between Oct. 11 and 13, the B-17 Aluminum Overcast was sitting on the tarmac at Barnes Airport for people who purchased tickets to go up in the 73-year-old plane for a flight around the Pioneer Valley and Connecticut Valley. Tickets were $475 for non-EAA members, $409 for EAA members, and $10 for a ground tour of the plane.The money raised benefits the operations and maintenance of the old B-17.

Silva said that he is grateful to be able to share the history of the plane. There are currently fewer than 20 B-17 Flying Fortresses left in existence, and fewer than 10 are flyable. The bomber was mass produced by Boeing in World War II. 

“We even had a man named Captain Bill Purple fly with a crew during the tours this week,” said Silva. Purple is a veteran of WWII and was a crewmember on the same kind of bomber.

Purple likely spotted a few differences between his wartime aircraft and the Aluminum Overcast, as the Overcast has been outfitted with modern controls that make the cockpit look closer to a commercial airliner than a WWII bomber. 

Silva said that the weather cooperating with the tours absolutely helped with attendance. Rain and high winds would have made it more difficult and dangerous to operate the bomber. The bombers from that era are also notorious for not being well insulated. 

“The support from the folks who came and the airport has been outstanding,” said Silva. 

He noted that the Aluminum Overcast had come to Barnes from a stop in Hyannis the week before. At least some of the flight tours in Hyannis were cancelled out of respect for the victims of the crash of the “Nine O Nine” B-17 at Bradley the week before. The National Transportation Safety Board has not released a suspected cause of the crash. 

The Nine O Nine was doing tours similar to that of the EAA, but for the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour instead. 

Following its tenure in Westfield, the Aluminum Overcast is scheduled for tours in Montgomery, New York this week. 

The Overcast was being flown by pilots Tom Ewing and Rick Fernalld. 

Silva said that the EAA has restored another World War Two bomber, the B-25 Mitchell, this past Spring. The B-25 may begin doing similar tours next summer, including another possible stop in Westfield. 

The EAA is a national organization of airplane enthusiasts that specializes in older, or uncommon aircraft. It has chapters in Westfield (Chapter 1620) and Northampton (1478) among many other chapters across the region and country. 

To read an account of the free media flight in the Overcast, check out Monday’s edition of The Westfield News.

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