Watching the B-17 Flying Fortress land is a full-body experience for Bruce McKelvey. He can smell it, taste it and touch it. And as many times as he’s watched it land, he said it’s an experience that never gets old.
The B-17 “Sentimental Journey” World War II bomber landed at Broomfield’s Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport on Thursday shortly after noon. The historic aircraft’s stop in Broomfield is part of its tour across the west through the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum’s Flying Legends of Victory Tour.
Arizona Commemorative Air Force Members — all volunteers — takes a couple of the museum’s World War II planes on tour each summer to expand the museum’s reach and educate a broader group of people.
McKelvey has been volunteering with the organization since 2014. More than anything, he said the tour is designed to keep history alive and to properly honor those who flew the planes first.
“The thing that is important to me about this is what this airplane represents to those who flew it in that era,” McKelvey said Thursday on the runway before the plane arrived. “These young kids, 18, 19, 20, 21 years old jumping in the back of these airplanes and going on bombing missions, flying it at 24,000 feet, 51 degrees below zero, the enemies trying to shoot you out of the sky. … These kids were a special breed.”
A crowd of approximately 50 gathered with cameras and cellphones in hand to watch the bomber slowly descend onto the tarmac Thursday. The B-17 will be on exhibit in Broomfield through Monday.
The plane is available for ground tours Friday through Monday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. for $10 a person or $20 for a family of four. Tickets can be purchased at the trailer onsite and no reservations are required. The tour also offers rides in the B-17 bomber beginning Friday and through Monday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets range from $425 to $850 and can be booked at azcaf.org/location/broomfield-co-tour-stop.
Tour Director Mike Garrett said the highlight of the tour stops are when World War II veterans or their family members visit. He told a story of a woman in Burlington, Washington who heard the B-17 fly over her house and immediately raced to the airport to ask if she could fly in the plane. She brought a photo of her late husband and opened up about how he was shot down in a B-17, captured and eventually rescued from a prisoner-of-war camp. Garrett said the woman’s husband ultimately died by suicide after battling mental health issues stemming from witnessing the concentration camps in Nazi Germany.
“We show up in places and World War II vets who never share anything begin sharing information,” Garrett said. “That’s what we can’t put down in writing. It’s the feeling that we get every time one of those things happen. … It’s all worth it.”
With the number of World War II veterans diminishing, volunteers agreed the Flying Legends of Victory Tour becomes all the more important.
“I’m 77 and I’m going to do this until I can’t do it anymore,” McKelvey said. “But we need to get people, interest generated in them to take over our spot. We need to keep this going, otherwise it will die out and we don’t want that to happen because that would be detrimental to all these folks that died in these. We want to keep it alive as long as we can. That’s our primary mission.
“Besides that, it’s just great fun.”
Ground Operations Coordinator Mike Mueller said there’s only four B-17s still flying, one of which is in Europe.
“The memories are fading, and pretty soon the only memories we have of the men who flew these planes are the planes themselves,” Mueller said. “So, we want to keep these airplanes up and flying for as long as we can.”
For additional information or to purchase tickets, visit azcaf.org.