Flying Legend; Veterans Extol Virtues of B-17 bomber

Will Ketner was reliving a lot of memories as the big silver airplane lifted off the runway yesterday at Capital City Airport.

"I love that sound," Ketner, 84, of Lower Paxton Twp., said above the roar from the four 1,200-horsepower Wright engines on Aluminum Overcast, a restored World War II B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.

Ketner, who flew five bombing missions over Europe as a B-17 pilot with the 8th Air Force, was among nine people taking a short flight on the bomber yesterday.

Aluminum Overcast, which is owned and flown by the Experimental Aircraft Association of Oshkosh, Wis., is making a three-day visit to the airport. The association is offering tours and flights in the historic aircraft today and tomorrow. The visit is a fundraiser for the association's local chapter, and proceeds will help keep Aluminum Overcast flying.

Volunteer pilots and crew members take the airplane on tours around the country for nine months of the year, and it flies every day during that period, said Dan Bowlin of Memphis, Tenn., one of the pilots on the trip to the midstate.

"It costs us $1,000 an hour just for the gas," Bowlin said.

Bowlin flew cargo airplanes for the U.S. Air Force and Boeing 747 passenger planes for Northwest Airlines before retiring. Neil Morrison, the other pilot on this trip, is a senior flight captain for UPS.

EAA member pilots and mechanics volunteer for two weeks at a time to fly the B-17, Bowlin said.

Maintenance is performed every day, and Aluminum Overcast is in tip-top shape, he said.

"This is arguably the most famous airplane of all time, and it is a real honor for us to fly it and to meet all the World War II veterans who come out to see it and hear their stories," he said.

Ketner and Robert Probasco of Lebanon, another World War II B-17 pilot, flew in the airplane yesterday.

Ketner was 21 in 1943 when he flew his B-17 across the Atlantic to England. He was back in the United States training to fly B-29 bombers in missions over Japan when the war ended.

"It brings back a lot of memories and a lot of heartache," he said, looking at Aluminum Overcast. "There were a lot of empty cots in the barracks after every mission.

"It was an easy plane to fly, with that big tail and big rudder. It made you a good pilot."

Probasco, 84, said his favorite memory of the war is seeing hundreds of the bombers flying in formation.

"It was a beautiful sight, with the sunlight reflecting off the wings of 1,000 airplanes stretching across the sky nearly as far as the eye could see," Probasco said. "It's a sight no one will ever see again. That era is gone."

Probasco was on his seventh bombing mission when his bomber was shot down over Germany. Four men in the 10-member crew died, and his parachute brought him down on a German flying field. He spent 11 months as a prisoner of war.

Aluminum Overcast was built during the war but was delivered too late to see combat. Instead, it was sold as war surplus for $750 and traveled to several countries on mapping and spraying operations.

A preservation group bought the plane in 1978 and donated it to the EAA Aviation Foundation in 1981.

Of the 12,731 B-17s built, only 15 are flyable today, Bowlin said.

JERRY L. GLEASON: 975-9782 or



* FLIGHTS: Rides will be provided every 45 minutes today and tomorrow at Capital City Airport.

* COST: $385 for EAA members and $425 for others.

* PLANE TOURS: 2-6 p.m. each day. Cost: $10 per family, $6 for adults and $5 for children. Tours are free to World War II veterans.

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