The Conroe community soon will be able to get a glimpse of the World War II experience from the sky.
The vintage heavy bomber, known as the B-17 Flying Fortress Texas Raiders, is moving permanently to a hangar at General Aviation Services on the north side of Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport in early February.
A public ribbon-cutting ceremony with WWII veterans in attendance is scheduled for March with the Conroe/Lake Conroe Chamber of Commerce. The first public event is expected to be in April, which will give people a chance to tour the cockpit and soar in the first B-17 to be restored as a “flying museum.”
The Commemorative Air Force Gulf Coast Wing, which is a nonprofit organization that maintains and operates the Texas Raiders, asks for donations of $5 for children under the age of 12, $10 for adults and $20 up to a family of five to help support the aircraft as an educational tool to honor and remember those who served in WWII.
CAF Spokesperson Nancy Kwiecien said Texas Raiders, which is celebrating 50 years of service to the CAF this year, has resided in the greater Houston area since the early 1970s at Ellington Field Joint Reserve base and David Wayne Hooks Airport in Spring.
However, the CAF has been looking for a better facility for the plane, according to Kwiecien. She said a significant amount of space coincidentally became available at the Conroe airport, which provides better public access for people to see and experience the plane more easily.
Additionally, she said the airport is easier to operate the big bomber.
“The B-17 can’t reside just anywhere,” Kwiecien said.
The United States deployed 12,731 of the bombers by the end of WWII as “the largest armada the world had ever seen,” according to information from the CAF. However, Kwiecien said only nine of those aircraft can still fly.
To put size into perspective, the popular Cessna-172 single engine airplane carries four people with a wingspan of 36 feet. The 20-foot-tall B-17 carried a crew of 10 and has a wingspan of 104 feet.
But, it had its flaws and eventually the aircraft evolved into the larger B-29 and then B-52 model. Yet, it remains an important part of American history.
“The B-17 wasn’t even pressurized,” she said. “The men who flew in them had to wear electric suits to keep warm and oxygen masks to breathe. … WWII ended and technology moved past this particular model of bomber. The B-17 was very much the airplane of its time in WWII.”
In 2016, the Texas Raiders flew 230 hours as one of the last Bowing B-17’s ever built. It was manufactured by Douglas Long Beach at the end of July 1945.
“She wasn’t born here in Texas but she got here as quick as she could,” Kwiecien said.
While WWII combat ended before Texas Raiders flew overseas, Kwiecien said the warplane did serve during the Korean War.
The aircraft’s military career included scouting, search and rescue and weather reconnaissance. After the war, this B-17 went on to become a seismic survey aircraft and in 1967 was acquired by the CAF to be restored to her military configuration.
The bomber has been in continuous operation since she was manufactured with time out for three different major restorations in the last 70 years. It is currently being painted in Longview.
Harold Hutcheson, manager of the Conroe Visitor’s Bureau is pleased to welcome Texas Raiders and the CAF to Conroe.
“She will be a great addition to our community and we look forward to working with her crew,” he said in a statement.
The hangar at General Aviation Services will host a CAF twin-engine cargo plane from World War II, the Navy JRB-6. This year, both aircraft will appear at public events at Conroe airport, as well as other events across the country. For more information, visit www.B17TexasRaiders.org.
The CAF has more than 11,000 members and a fleet of 166 airplanes distributed throughout the country to 76 CAF units for their care and operation. For more information, visitwww.commemorativeairforce.org.