I’m sure you’ve heard “Where the Past Comes Alive”, an expression used by historical theme parks, museums and roadside attractions. The opposite happened last week with the loss of the Collings Foundation’s flagship aircraft the “Nine-O-Nine” at their air show in Windsor, CT at Bradley Airport. It was in the news but may have been a passing story with all the current events but to me it’s a story of significance. Not only did the B-17 go down not ten minutes from my brother and sister-in-laws home; I flew on the “Nine-O-Nine” when it came barnstorming to Greenville six years ago along with other World War II area planes that are part of Collings’ traveling “Living HIstory” exhibition.
Photographers are also historians. There’s a lot I could say about this loss. There was the loss of those that perished; I grieve and pray for their families. I had a lengthy conversation with the pilots before our flight in 2013. They were professional, enthusiastic and passionate about providing us with just a glimpse of what it was like to fly in battle. They were as quietly aware of their responsibility as they guided a bunch of giddy passengers through the air.
There isn’t much comfort in a B-17. Really no seats except what resembles stadium cushions on the floor. For a “fortress” it is spartan. No flight attendants to show you emergency exits, no padding to cushion you from a hard landing. So when the passengers were told to strap in for a hard landing…well. I can imagine. I won’t go into more; I’d rather just mourn for those who were lost and the “Nine-O-NIne.” It never flew in battle but it represented the lives of many a young kid that volunteered for some of the war’s most hazardous missions.
I am haunted by one thing. I know many flew their missions and came home only to hear that another crew went down with their over the European battleground. I never thought I could come close to imagining what that felt like. I do now.