Restored B-17 bomber offers firsthand look at aviation history

B-17 will be in Madison this weekend

The Experimental Aircraft Association’s fully restored B-17 bomber is giving the public the chance to live World War II and aviation history.

The EAA said more 12,000 B-17 bombers were built to fly missions over Nazi-held territory, and while World War II has become a page in history over time, the firsthand accounts of those who flew the bombers remain treasures, even in modern-day skies.

“They were considered the top bomber at that time,” said veteran Merwyn Sorensen.

The Madison veteran remembers the B-17 as the bomber that shaped modern conflict in the skies.

“That’s what turned the war around,” Sorensen said.

“And the bombing just eventually wore the German war machine down to where (it) couldn’t sustain itself,” said B-17 crew chief Glenn Hill.

A seat on the plane 70 years ago meant spending hours in enemy territory. The view from the flight Monday over Madison shows what scores of young men fought to preserve.

“Early losses were terrible because they didn’t have the fighter cover they needed,” Hill said.

“We thought it was a war to end wars, and that didn’t happen,” Sorensen said.

But Sorensen’s own time in the B-17 was never meant to be.

“I thought I could make it, but I found out my eyes wouldn’t allow me,” he said.

The veteran ended up training scores of aerial radio operators.

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“I thought it was very important because these operators had to pass all their tests before they were cleared to go overseas,” Sorensen said.

Once the plane landed Monday, Sorensen was all smiles, giving a thumbs up to the crew.

“It’s an amazing, amazing generation,” Hill said. “Every year, when you talk to them, they’re so humble. They think, ‘Aww, shucks, we did what we had to do.'”

The B-17 will be in Madison and open to the public for both air rides and general ground tours Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Wisconsin Aviation, located at 3606 Corben Ct. in Madison, off Amelia Earhart Drive off Highway 51. For more information, go to www.b17.org.

People can see the fully restored B-17 “Flying Fortress” Aluminum Overcast and other tributes to the greatest generation in the air at this year’s EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh July 23-29.

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