The B-17 bomber served as a centerpiece as one of Centennial Airport’s ramps took on a museum-like atmosphere thanks to the displays and aircraft …
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The B-17 bomber served as a centerpiece as one of Centennial
Airport’s ramps took on a museum-like atmosphere thanks to the
displays and aircraft dating back to World War II.
The occasion was the visit of Aluminum Overcast, a B-17 bomber
owned and maintained by the Experimental Aircraft Association based
in Oshkosh, Wis. This year, the B-17 is making stops around the
United States on the Salute to Veterans Tour. The visit to
Centennial Airport, June 8-13, was a joint effort of the EEA and
the Wings over the Rockies Air Museum located in what used to be
one of the hangers at Lowry Air Force Base.
The plane made a series of short flights out and, when not in
the air, spectators could check out the inside of the aircraft as
it sat on the ramp at Centennial.
Besides the B-17, there were a trio of World War II era planes
on display plus a display of Jeeps, weapons and a radio van,
staffed by volunteers wearing uniforms, complete with unit patches,
from the 1940s. Visitors could buy keepsakes from the event,
including custom-made “dog tags.”
One visitor to the plane was World War II veteran F. H. “Casey”
Clark sat in his wheelchair and looked into the belly gun turret
that was his crew assignment.
“I was picked to be in the belly turret because I was small and
could fit into the cramped space,” the Highlands Ranch resident
said. “But I was lucky because, after I completed crew training, I
was assigned to a group that flew from city to city here in the
U.S. promoting recruiting and purchase of savings bonds.”
The B-17 experience was much different for 25-combat mission
veteran E.E. “Mitch” Mischler, who volunteered to staff a position
and to answer questions about the B-17 and that area of aviation
“I got my draft notice and went down and enlisted as a volunteer
for the Army Air Corps,” the Centennial resident said. “The sent us
to basic training in Florida but we were there only a short time
because the Air Corps needed crews so we were pulled out and sent
He went to Lowry Air Force Base to learn to maintain the
50-caliber machine gun, sent to Arizona to learn to shoot the
weapon and, after crew training, he was sent to England in October
1943. A month later, he flew the first of his combat missions.
“Most missions were eight hours or more,” he said. “Other
gunners had seats but the other waist gunner and I stood up the
The bombers took off, got into formation, climbed to about
25,000, feet where the cold was intense and the temperature often
reached 40 below zero.
Mischler said the Air Corps sought to help by designing and
issuing padded suits patterned after electric blankets in that they
were heated by electricity running through wires woven to the
fabric. He said crew members also wore fur-lined boots, hats and
gloves against cold and had to keep an eye on the equipment so it
The cold also made it impractical to take water along because it
would freeze solid at altitude.
He said they didn’t move around much because, in addition to the
cold weather gear, crew members wore heavy metal vests designed to
protect them from shrapnel, a life vest and a parachute
The crew also wore oxygen masks throughout most of the flight,
The B-17 bombers flew out of bases in England to conduct
daylight bombing raids on enemy targets such as air fields,
factories and supply depots.
The German sought to defend against the bombing raids with
fighters and anti-aircraft. Up until 1944, the bombers got fighter
escorts early in the missions but faced the enemy aircraft alone
when low fuel forced allied fighters to return to their home
The toll on the B-17s was heavy even though the aircraft was
known for its ability to absorb heady damage and still return
safely to its home base.
Still, of the more than 12,000 flown in combat, more than 4,000
were shot down and quite a few more were so badly damages they
would be stripped of usable parts and scrapped.
The conditions improved early in 1944 when the P-51 fighters
began to arrive because those planes could escort and help defend
the bombers for the entire mission.
Mischner remembers the arrival of the P-51s.
“They sure made things better for the bombers,” he said. “On one
of my final missions, I remember we had P-51 escorts as we flew
deep into Germany and back and never saw one fighter the entire
The Centennial man opted not to get out when the war was over,
stayed in what became the Air Force and retired in 1972 with 30
years service. He now stays active with traveling and volunteering
as a member of 8th Air Force Historical Society, Colorado Chapter
and and other World War II veterans organizations.
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