The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) had offered me a cross country flight on their B-29 Superfortress 'Fifi', but I would have been gone a week and on the hook to get myself back home again. I groaned. I couldn't do it. When you run a business that's grown by over 100% in 12 months, being away from it for more than a day is not an option - even for a lifetime opportunity like that. So, the matter was more or less shelved for awhile. Then, out of the blue (literally), an aircraft with which I'd had a long history with came to me. I'd toured the CAF's B-17G 'Sentimental Journey' as a kid with my father, back in 1987. It was a real highlight of my life back in those days. This email popped into my inbox:
'Hi Ron, I wanted to contact you to let you know that we have made arrangements for you to ride on our B-17 “Sentimental Journey” while we are in Wheeling, WV. All courtesy of Adam Smith with CAF Headquarters in Dallas.'
You don't pass that up!
All of this had come about thanks to my aviation artwork, which is my business and my living and my joy. I'd been commissioned by the CAF to paint a few of their aircraft over the preceding years:
Their gracious offer to give me a flight in one of the most historic aircraft in the world, that was never a part of any formal agreement or in payment for anything, is indicative of what is special about the warbird community today. There really is a uniquely genuine sense of hospitality, appreciation, and a common spirit among everyone involved - even though we often have very different backgrounds. When we can do something to support each other, we do it. When we can help one another out, we don't hesitate. And it all comes around. These are the best people I've ever worked with.
With only a week notice I scrambled to get things in order. My wife couldn't come with me, so I asked around for a trip companion. Jana Pryor, a great friend and professional photographer, took me up on my offer. She couldn't get on the plane for the flight, unfortunately, but she was thrilled just get access to such a machine and in such a unique setting. The tiny airport in Wheeling was restored to its 1946 standard, replete with hardwood, beveled glass, marble and various period-appropriate displays of aviation history. Even the bathrooms were as they were in the 1940s. And no TSA security. No metal detectors. No big obtrusive fences. When we arrived there were only a half dozen cars in the parking lot. The only aircraft on the tarmac was Sentimental Journey.
I wanted to livestream the flight on Facebook, but the signal wasn't strong enough. Jana streamed it from the ground perspective, but I took video of most of the flight and have uploaded it here.
What a thrill!
See Livestream Video of Startup & Takeoff from the Ground
It was everything I'd hoped it would be, and I'm grateful to the CAF team who put all of this together. I will do this again!
- Ron Cole