Just so he didn't think this was a joy ride, I insisted he do a little reading and write a short report on the B-24, and its importance to WWII. He learned a little about the famous May 1944 Ploesti raid, in which B-24s with their longer-range and higher bomb load capacity than the B-17s, bombed this strategically important oil refinery in Romania, important to the German war machine. Unfortunately, they didn't do nearly enough harm to slow down oil production, and many B-24s, and crews of 10, were lost.
More recently, the B-24 was central in the newly famous story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic hopeful in track who flew as navigator on B-24s, as made known by the book Unbroken - a WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand of Seabiscuit fame. While B-24s factored in heavily to the story, unfortunately what I took out of it was the brutal horrific inhumane treatment of POWs by the Japanese, to whom the Geneva Convention meant nothing and capture was viewed as disgrace -- you were way better off being captured by Germans.
Last year when I flew on the B-24, the volunteers who are running the Wings of Freedom Tour said they'd just met Louis Zamperini, now in his 90s, while in San Diego a few weeks back. WHOOOOA.
Our rides are always light-hearted joy rides, though I try to stay aware of what the actual airmen had to endure in the 1940s. I don't expect a 10yo to truly get it, but someday he'll be glad he had to learn a little bit about what these planes actually did in one of the most horrific and destructive conflicts in history.
Gabriel and I at the back of the B-24.
Gabriel in front of the aircraft, dubbed "Witchcraft."
The whole thing. Such a striking view. While we waited for some late passengers, who were ultimately too late to board, we got to see the B-17 take off -- now that was a treat!
The B-24's tail fins are really distinctive.
We're on! Gabriel sat in the tiny scrunchy radioman's chair, always reserved for the smallest passenger. I sat there last year, it is NOT comfortable.
Having done this before, I know the drill: the moment the flight engineer gives us the unbuckle signal, I let loose immediately and crawl down to the best view in the house: the nose. If you're more than 2 feet apart, it's almost impossible to talk, so I had to do a lot of tapping Gabriel and pointing to him where to go. Don't waste a second here -- go straight for the nose, the best seat in the house!
It's difficult to explain how intense it is to be in the nose -- full panoramic view, extremely windy and noisy. Nothing like it in the world. You're well below and under the pilots too -- you really are at the absolute front of the plane. But imagine being shot at from here?!
Someone else gets a turn, but we still get to see the area just below the nose, I think where the navigator did his thing.
Then it's hands-and-knees crawling to get back to the cockpit area, and to the back of the plane. First, you have to cross the bomb bay catwalk. It's long and narrow, and the crew likes to freak us out a little by taxiing with the bomb bay doors open. Not that the bomb bay doors would do much to hold you if you fell into them -- this plane is designed for dropping bombs, not keeping clumsy airmen in. Maybe that's why we taxi this way, to underscore the point of just how long and how narrow and how minimal that catwalk is!
I can always count on Gabriel not to be freaked out -- and walking this 20' narrow bomb bay, doors closed or not, is pretty freaky.
Now we were in the back of the plane, which is almost more fun because the windows are wide open, with the machine guns sticking out.
Gabriel tried to shoot down a commercial aircraft with a clear con trail to project its path, but it was out of range. In truth, while having half your crew devoted to defensive weapons on these planes, they couldn't do much by themselves against the capable Luftwaffe or anti-aircraft groundfire.
Offensive strategy or not, it was still a fantastic view. And with the rear windows open, a really windy one!
We flew close to the coast, where the land came up much closer to the airplane. Great views of local mountain trails, and cool views of the plane's shadow, which Gabriel was very excited about.
(I need to do some studying of local topography and figure out where exactly we were! Or go back to Moffett and ask the pilots :) )
Fun was over too fast -- two bells meant "We're landing, take your 'seats'." It's really a stretch to call them seats -- a clear area on the ground that includes an ancient belt that we can't possibly adjust to our size even it'd do any good at all anyway. But, OK, if it makes them feel better.
We sat in the waist hatch to land, instead of up-front. The ball turret was behind us, which meant a lot of wind directed around it -- these planes aren't sealed against air leakage, let alone pressurized, so you live with what you get!
We disembarked quickly, as we'd been told they'd do a "hot-load" -- putting new passengers on the plane without shutting the engines down, but some warning light caused them to shut the engines down (and, we think, cut out flight short by a few minutes). As soon as we landed, ladders came out and the guys started checking out the B-24 engine. Glad we were on the first flight, 'cause that group of would-be B-24 riders looks pretty bummed!
But that meant the chance for a few more photos with the plane.
Gabriel dead-center on the B-24 after landing, just under the nose area that is SO exciting to be in while flying.
Fortunately most passengers are snapping and clicking away with photos, and are all too happy to volunteer to take a photo for me.
Does a kid get how special this is? I doubt it, but I know he'll understand it later. Not many adults can look back on their childhoods and think, "wow, my Mom took me on a historic ride on a WWII bomber plane -- cool!". He'd better mention this at my funeral, and make sure my beautiful wooden model of the B-17 goes with me into my coffin!!
But that's WAYYY far off -- we have so much living to do together, so much learning the world together to do first. And how exciting it was to share that past living (much in part thanks to the sacrifices made by the very young men who flew on these plane) with the future living. I can think of no more fitting juxtaposition of past and future than that!