WWII Fighter Planes visits Napa County Airport
By Forest Downey, age 17
Photos by Lowell Downey of Art & Clarity where indicated
History came to Napa today. From September 21st through the 27th you can take a tour or experience a flight on the B-17G Sentimental Journey, which was built in 1944. The WWII bomber is piloted by Pete Scholl, co-piloted by Travis Major, and the Load Master, Jerry Washburn, and the Flight Crew Chief is Jay Taylor.
The B17, made by Boeing, has four huge engines, which consumes a total of 200 hundred gallons of jet fuel an hour. This plane is entirely manually controlled without any hydraulics. A crew of 10 men were required to fully operate this aircraft.
I was amazed at the beauty of this plane as it taxied by me on the tarmac. As it made its turn, the force of wind from its four propellers caught me by surprise. As I climbed up the thin metal ladder into the fuselage of the plane, I was shocked by the small, hard passageway, cold metal frame and exposed wires. The men who flew this plane were on a mission not a vacation.
I met Julian Gradski, who was with his son and grandson, Joe and Leland Gradski. Mr. Gradski was a B17 pilot in 1951 and stationed in Iceland. He said he was there doing air rescue missions and keeping the Russian fisherman off the coast.
When we were asked to board the plane, I crawled through a small space to reach the nose of the plane where I sat in the navigator’s seat behind the bombardier. I began to sweat profusely in this sweltering heat while sitting on the tarmac ready for take off. I began to imagine what it was like for a young volunteer my age, with two machine guns on either side, to head into battle during WWII with a belly full of bombs. Sitting in the glass nose of an aircraft that was a deadly weapon of war, I looked down at Napa Valley where I grew up. I have a new perspective on how I see my world.
Flight Crew Chief Taylor spoke about the purpose of this flight as a historical record to honor the men of WWII who risked their lives and died fighting for our freedom. He doesn’t want these men to be forgotten, and I never will forget them having taken this historic flight.