Living history from the air

U.S.-based B-17 bomber makes a stop at the Victoria International Airport this week.

Second World War veterans Atholl Sutherland-Brown

Two veterans of the Second World War say keeping aircraft like a restored B-17 bomber in the air not only keeps history alive but honours the people who helped make that history.

On Monday, a B-17 bomber aircraft flew into the Victoria International Airport. Operated by the U.S.-based Commemorative Air Force, the iconic bomber is on the Saanich Peninsula until August 16, offering cockpit tours and flights.

For Victoria veterans Atholl Sutherland-Brown and Tom Burdge, it was a chance to get back into the air, despite not actually having flown in one during their service during the war.

Sutherland-Brown flew Beaufighter long-range fighter-bomber airplanes in the Pacific theatre, while Burdge flew Mosquito fighter-bombers in Europe. Burdge even had a hand in the restoration of a Mosquito at the airport that was completed last year.

“It’s a real part of history,” said Sutherland-Brown, “and we shouldn’t forget it.”

Lt.-Col. (Ret.) Jim Kimmel is one of the pilots of the bomber, alongside copilot Dave  Watson. Kimmel said the aircraft did not see action in the Pacific, where it was sent after it was built in 1944.

After the war, where it was used as a VIP transport plane, it was used in sea rescue operations until 1959 when it was sold to a private company that turned it into a water bomber for 20 years. It was obtained by the Commemorative Air Force in 1978, turned back into its original configuration and today, flied around 150 hours a year.

“It’s very reliable, Kimmel said. “She’ll tell you how she’s doing.”

Christened the Sentimental Journey, the bomber is flying history and education, Kimmel said. Part of the group’s stable of airworthy planes (last year, they brought a B-25 bomber to Victoria), he explained they are used to educate new generations and to honour the air crews who flew to ensure freedom during the Second World War.

It’s the Commemorative Air Force’s mission, Kimmel continued, to provide living history through actual experiences.

Kimmel himself flew F4 and F15 jets during his service with the U.S. Air Force.

The Commemorative Air Force, he noted, attracts all kinds of enthusiasts, working to keep history alive. The group will often re-enact famous air battles and their stable of aircraft has grown from strictly U.S.-made planes, to German and Japanese aircraft.

“When you’re telling a story,” he said, “it pays to have a variety of tools to do that.”

Victoria Flying Club President, Ramona Reynolds, shares the excitement of the B-17 visit.

“All of us at the Victoria Flying Club welcome everyone to join us in experiencing this magnificent piece of aviation history.”

The B-17 bomber is being hosted by the Victoria Flying Club. It will be at the Victoria airport until August 16. It will be on display and in the air from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.

For more information about the bomber, visit the flying Club at flyvfc.com or check out the Commemorative Air Force website at azcaf.org.