Seattle’s most familiar sights scrolled by postcard-size out the plane window: Seward Park, Lake Washington and the Space Needle.
Passenger Ted Gary was happy to be alive.
During World War II, Gary, a 1943 Hoquiam High School graduate, was a tail gunner in a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress similar to the one he flew in last Friday afternoon. Now Gary is a docent at the Museum of Flight, where he answers kids’ questions and shows them a sandwich bag full of jagged metal, shrapnel from the war.
“That’s what the Germans shot at you, 88-millimeter shells,” he said, holding the pieces in his hands.
The 88-year-old Gary, a retired Seattle educator, went up in a restored B-17G as part of the annual “Wings of Freedom Tour” organized by the Massachusetts-based Collings Foundation, which each year brings World War II-era planes to more than 100 cities across the United States, helping history come alive for Americans.
Through Sunday at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, the public can pay to tour and fly on a B-17G Flying Fortress, B-24J Liberator and a TP-51C Mustang fighter plane. The Collings Foundation has stopped at Boeing Field since the 1990s.
The B-17G on display was built in Long Beach, Calif., by Douglas Aircraft. It never saw combat but has been repainted and renamed to honor another storied aircraft, the “Nine-O-Nine,” which completed 140 bombing missions without losing a crew member, according to the Collings Foundation.
Al Jones, who flew 88 missions over Europe as a pilot in the 414th Night Fighter Squadron, was on board Friday’s flight with his son, Kevin Jones.
After liftoff, the two unbuckled their seat belts and Kevin Jones helped his 94-year-old father stand up from the low seats so he could tour the plane and view the scenery below.
Al Jones smiled as he stood behind the pilots in the cockpit and looked out the window. Kevin Jones said he’s proud of his father.
“I’ve never gone through the horrific experiences he’s gone through,” he said.
The Flying Fortress flight sparked memories for Ted Gary, who served out of Debach, England on a bomber crew members called “Snell’s Snails,” after the last name of the pilot.
Until around four years ago, Gary never wanted to talk about his experiences, but friends persuaded him to open up and educate others about World War II. During the flight, he pointed out the plane’s features, like the Morse code telegraph key to communicate with base and the .50-caliber machine guns pointing out the windows.
He also recounted the close calls he had with the Germans, saying it’s important to learn from history so we don’t repeat it.
“War is hell,” he said.
After the plane touched down smoothly at Boeing Field, passengers hoisted themselves out through the small side door.
After the flight, Collings Foundation volunteer Mike Adams stood on a ladder and cleaned leaking oil from the plane’s spinners and polished the rotors. He supports the mission of preserving the planes.
“All the guys are passing away and it’s good to take part and honor what they’ve done,” he said.