RV-8 – Transport to the Past! by Paul Dye
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A couple of weeks ago, a buddy of mine that flies for a “Major US Carrier not currently in Bankruptcy” called to tell me that he ran into one of old friends on a deadhead leg who is flying a B-17 for the Liberty Bell Foundation in his spare time. He’d invited us to join him in Corpus Christi on the 30th, and if he could find room, we’d get to take a flight! AS my buddy said “Whatever you’re doing on the 30th – cancel it! We’re taking your RV to Corpus!”
The day turned out to be as perfectas you could get. Lifting off of Pearland regional (south of Houston) a few minutes after eight in the morning, we climbed up to 6500, direct CRP with clear skis, no wind, and smooth air. The 45 minute flight was broken only by Jimmy Buffet tunes on the intercom, and we were cleared to land on RWY 17 from 25 miles out. The -17 was taxing out for it’s first flight of the day as we parked, and we got a chance to meet the crew from Liberty Bell before it returned. They were a great bunch of aviation enthusiasts, giving their time to keep this wonderfully restored aircraft in the air.
They were scheduled for nine trips that day, each one lasting about 30 minutes, with taxi time and passenger changes filling the rest. We got lots of chances to crawl around inside while they were on the ground between flights, and plenty of stories about the restoration of the bird. I was astounded at the fact that it flew all day, with multiple starts and stops, and never missed a beat. The interior was beautifully done, and quite authentic. They had cleverly hidden a Garmin stack in the panel directly in front of the pilot’s yoke, and when it is sitting on the ground, with the stick sagging forward, you’d never know it was there – the whole cockpit looks like it just came out of the European theatre!
As an RV builder, I couldn’t help but taking a look at the lines of rivets making up this classic plane, built just about 60 years ago. AS you can see from the following photo, even the factory folks (granted – working under extreme time pressure!), can smoosh a few rivets, and make each shop head a little different. Newbies should think about this when reviewing their own work with a too-critical eye!
Although I grew up reading book after book on the air war in Europe, I hadn’t though much about it in recent years, and never made the connection that this “Flying Fortress” actually cruised at speeds less than what we get today in our RV’s. After a day of hanging out and watching the flights, we finally got our chance to go up as “crewmembers” late in the day. One of the first things I noticed was that with the top window/hatch removed, you could stick your head out into the slipstream, and it really wasn’t all that fast – and gave some great photo opportunities! Almost lost my VAF hat, but got the shot – that is one big tail!
I got a lot of pictures throughout the day – way to many to post here – lots of details of equipment and views from the flight. But another that I thought would interest anyone who has built an RV is this shot from the back of the panel. They had the access cover removed to improve cooling – this is from the bombardiers’ station, looking back at the pilot and copilot’s instruments.
Of course, you have to be careful when flying the dangerous skis in the Corpus area – naval aviation cadets are everywhere, and defensive action is sometimes necessary. I kept looking for a squadron of RV’s to come to our defense, but they were probably at a pancakes breakfast somewhere, and we were on our own to make it back to base in one piece.
My biggest impression of the B-17 was profound, and totally unexpected. Growing up with movies of the great war, seeing large formations of B-17’s rain thousands of bombs on targets below, I really had the impression that these massive machines were carrying equally massive bomb loads, delivering huge amounts of ordinance on each mission. But when I stepped through the bomb bay, and saw the size of the 12 five-hundred pounders that it could carry, I was shocked to realize just how small their load really was. When you think that 10 men and this big machine fought their way for hundreds of miles to deliver what today would be a miniscule amount of force, it really sobers you up, giving you tremendous respect for the sacrifice the crews made in their contribution to the war effort. I got a new and very real understanding of why the formations were so large – they had to be in order to deliver a significant effect on their target.
My friend and I were profoundly thankful to the folks supporting this aircraft from the Liberty Bell Foundation for giving us a chance to ride along. As we helped them to pack up, and they were getting ready to take the ship to a paint shop for a complete external restoration, we realized just how much money – and volunteer effort – it takes to keep one of these flying. 200 gallons of 100LL an hour, in round figure – that’s $900 an hour for fuel alone at Corpus today. We climbed back into the RV as they were figuring out just how much fuel to take on, and as we taxied out, they were putting in oil to make up for the days losses. Our return trip to Houston burned less fuel than what it takes them to start an engine and get it up to temperature!
We couldn’t believe that such a nice day could exist on the Gulf Coast – very little wind, not to hot, and no turbulence from morning to evening. It was an incredible day to be an aviator, and an incredible day to own an RV. We smoked a couple of good cigars as we headed to a Mexican restaurant back in Houston, thankful that we have the freedom and capability to enjoy a day like this!