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B-17 Bomber takes centre stage at Gatineau Airport

July 9, 2014, Gatineau, Que. - Sentimental Journey, a 70-year-old B-17 bomber, on Monday touched down at Gatineau airport, where aviation enthusiasts will have a week to tour the aircraft and, for $425 U.S. each, board it for 20-minute flights.


July 9, 2014
By The Ottawa Citizen

The primary bomber of the U.S. air force during the Second World War,
the B-17, or Flying Fortress, has a special connection with Ottawa: In
1943, the RCAF acquired six of the craft for between roughly $300,000
and $400,000 each. Stripped of their armaments, the aircraft flew out of
the Rockcliffe airbase with 168 Heavy Transport Squadron, carrying mail
to troops overseas.

 

“How important is mail to combat troops? Extremely important,” said
Vintage Wings of Canada founder Michael Potter, who was on hand Monday
to greet the Boeing plane and its crew. “It’s not just a humanitarian
thing, but it affects the war effort directly, in terms of encouraging
and assisting our troops to put up with what they have to and take the
risks they do.”

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Nicknamed “flying mail trucks,” Canada’s B-17s completed 240 Atlantic
crossings by the time the unit disbanded in 1946. During that time, 168
Squadron delivered more than 1,000 metric tons of mail, 4,000 tons of
freight and over 42,000 passengers. Five Canadian servicemen and three
passengers died while serving with 168 Squadron when, on Dec. 21, 1945,
their plane disappeared during a flight from Africa to Ottawa. Only a
few Royal Mail Canada mailbags were found floating on the ocean surface.

Following the war, the RCAF’s remaining B-17s were used to map the
far north. One of the pilots employed with that task was Roger Hadfield,
father of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. The senior pilot, now 80,
was aboard Monday’s flight from Hamilton to Ottawa, and even took over
the controls for about half an hour.

 

“It was wonderful,” he said after touching down in Gatineau. “It’s
been 53 years and two months since I flew one, and the only thing I’d
forgotten was the noise and the vibration.”

 

Stepping into a cockpit Monday, however, wasn’t such an odd thing.
Hadfield still pilots his own aerobatic biplane. “But I’m 80 years old
and never thought I’d step foot in one of these again.”

 

Sentimental Journey, meanwhile, displays the markings of the 457th
Bomber Group. Built in 1944, her name comes from the song made popular
by Doris Day in 1945, while on her nose is painted a likeness of Betty
Grable, the most famous of Second World War-era pin-up girls. The plane
was assigned to the Pacific theatre and in 1947 was removed from storage
in Japan and assigned to mapping duties in the Philippines.