‘This is part of our heritage and our history’: Vintage WWII bombers land in St. George

ST. GEORGE — With military precision, two World War II-era bombers landed at nearly the exact time they were expected to touchdown at the St. George Regional Airport.

B-17 “Flying Fortress” heavy bomber – Sentimental Journey – was the first to land in St. George Thursday. A crowd of more than 25 came out to see the vintage WWII airplane touchdown. St. George, Utah, July 2, 2020 | Photo by David Louis, St. George News

A B-25 “Mitchell” bomber, Maid in the Shade, and a B-17 “Flying Fortress” heavy bomber, Sentimental Journey, landed at the Western Aviation Warbird Museum at the airport Thursday for a three-day stopover during the Mesa-based Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force 2020 Flying Legends of Victory Tour.

Travis Major, CAF airbase leader and pilot commander on the B-17, said he is always proud to have the opportunity to show off and fly two of the wing’s 173 aircraft.

“This is part of our heritage and our history,” Major said. “There is a very precious history with each one of these airplanes. It’s a history that is perishable. Every year we get further and further away from it, but this is an opportunity to take these extremely rare airplanes out and around the country.”

Between July 2 and Sept. 27, one or both planes will visit 18 towns for multiple days and offer flights to the public, with an extended flight scheduled for July Fourth over Southern Utah. Aircraft tours are also available for $15 per person and $25 per family.

When asked what is like to command these beasts, Major didn’t miss a beat.

B-25 “Mitchell” bomber – Maid in the Shade – fires up its twin Wright R-2600 “Cyclone” radial engines, with 1,850 horsepower each at takeoff. Photo taken at previous landing in Rawlins, Wy., July 11, 2016 | Photo by David Louis, St. George News

“I think the beasts command you.,” he said.

Relics of a different time, each plane doesn’t use modern technology to get airborne, remain airborne and land safely. From the moment you fire up the engine and pull the chocks on the landing gear, Major said, you have to fly each bomber minute-by-minute until you shut down.

With a max takeoff weight of 65,500 pounds and a crew of 10, the B-17’s four Wright R-1820-97 Cyclone Turbo-Supercharged radial engines produced 1,200 horsepower each. On typical models, it fielded 13 .50 caliber M2 Browning machine guns and carried between 4,500-9,600 pounds of ordnance.

Fully loaded, the B-17G weights in as heavy as a modern regional jet today.

“During World War II, it was the biggest thing we had,” Major said.

Along with the joy flying both vintage aircraft and reverence to their history is the passing along what these aircraft did for America’s freedom to children, he added.

“That is part of our message to educate, inspire and honor,” Major said. “At this time, more than ever in recent years, it is so important that people understand our heritage and our history that has made it possible for us to be here today.”

Someone in a young person’s family may have had a part to play in the war effort. The goal, Major said, is to “bring that home to them and give them some of the history they may not have had.”

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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