Rapid City Regional Airport Open House To Feature Rare Functional B-17
June 15, 2015
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  • RAPID CITY, S.D. The Rapid City Regional Airport and the General Aviation Committee will welcome the public to an Open House/Fly-in on Saturday, June 20th, at the Rapid City Regional Airport from 9:00AM to 2:00PM.

    A wide variety of aircraft will be on display and visitors will have an opportunity to learn more about the airport’s role in the community. Guided aircraft tours, static aircraft displays and booth presentations will provide an opportunity to learn more about general aviation from pilots and other specialists in the field. Displays will include new airplanes, experimental aircraft, aerobatic aircraft, corporate aircraft, helicopters, Life Flight aircraft, gliders and a WWII B-17 Bomber. Young Eagle flights will be available for youth ages 7-17 (with signed parental consent).

    This event will showcase general aviation in the Black Hills and will coincide with the “Sentimental Journey” of a WWII B-17 Bomber, which will be on display from June 15-June 21. Sentimental Journey is the name a Boeing B-17G that was built by Douglas Aircraft in late 1944, and was accepted by the U.S. Army Air Forces on 13 March 1945.

    Assigned to the Pacific theater for the duration of the war, it was subsequently placed in storage in Japan. In 1947, the B-17G was reconfigured as a RB-17B for a new role in photo-mapping and assigned to Clark Field in Manila.

    In 1950, the aircraft was transferred to Eglin Field, Florida and converted to a DB-17G for service as an air-sea rescue craft. During the 1950s, it was modified to a DB-17P standard, serving with the 3215th Drone Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida. One of its important missions was “Operation Greenhouse,” the fourth postwar atmospheric nuclear weapon test series conducted by the United States during the spring of 1951. As a mother ship, the B-17P directed unmanned, radio controlled B-17 drone aircraft to measure blast and thermal effects and to collect radioactive cloud samples. During the test, a drone aircraft would be taken off by ground control. A “mother ship,” already airborne, would then come from behind, take control of the drone and fly it to the target area.

    On 27 January 1959, the aircraft was transferred to military storage at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. After a few months storage, 83514 was acquired by the Aero Union Corporation of Chico, California, receiving civilian aircraft registration: N-9323Z. For 18 years, the converted bomber flew as a forest fire fighter throughout the United States.

    On 14 January 1978, at a membership banquet for the newly formed Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, Colonel Mike Clarke announced the donation of the aircraft to the CAF for assignment to the Arizona Wing. A contest was initiated by the local media to name the aircraft, which resulted in more than 800 entries, and the ultimate selection of the name “Sentimental Journey” with nose art featuring World War II pinup Betty Grable. Permission was secured from widower Harry James to add Betty Grable in her most tantalizing pose to complete the newly acquired bomber.

    Although flyable, “Sentimental Journey” was hardly an accurate representative of the wartime B-17 bomber and in December 1981, the aircraft underwent an extensive restoration. By 1985, the addition of four operational turrets, operational bomb bay doors, navigator and radio operator stations, Norden bomb sight and machine guns completed the transformation to its original condition.

    Over the years,”Sentimental Journey” has performed across North America, as one of the most recognizable examples of the type, keeping the legacy of the B-17 intact.

    The Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona (a non-profit organization) will be displaying the bomber at Rapid City Regional Airport’s open house this weekend. Of the 12,731 B-17’s manufactured, only half survived through WWII.  Today, 50 exist but only 10 of them are still in airworthy condition.  This will be a unique opportunity for the public to tour the aircraft and learn more about the historical significance of the B-17.  Flights and cockpit tours on the aircraft will be available for purchase by the general public and commemorative flights will be given, free of charge, to WWII Air Corps veterans.

    Flights may be purchased by calling (602) 448-9415.

    This family activity is open to the public and free of charge. Lunch will be available from 11:00AM to 1:00PM with a free-will donation.