Friday, October 4, 2019

RIP Nine-O-Nine

A B-17 crashed in Connecticut last Tuesday. Seven of the thirteen aboard died. The B-17 pages on Facebook have been full of shock and sorrow.
Nine-O-Nine was built in 1945, too late to fly in World War II. It had no notable history of its own, but was named for a previous Nine-O-Nine. Many people have no opportunity to see the old warbird where they live. The Collings Foundation brought their “museum” planes to the people. Nine-O-Nine toured the country, providing thrills and excitement for the thousands who took a ride. For most, it was a hands-on introduction to the iconic airplane previously only seen in movies or books.
Pilot Earnest “Mac” McCauley spent 300 days a year touring with Nine-O-Nine as a volunteer pilot. He is quoted in Plane & Pilot, saying, “The B-17 is a very stable, nice-flying airplane, but it’s so big that it’s like driving a cement truck on a go-cart track. It’s all cables, so it’s slow on the controls. And the trickiest part of flying the B-17? It doesn’t like crosswinds. You have this huge mass that wants to swap ends with you all the time.
He died at the controls of the plane he loved. “I realize how lucky I am, and it is an honor to fly it.”

I did not fly in Nine-O-Nine. I flew in Aluminum Overcast. But I did explore the interior of Nine-O-Nine. My family had no connection to the B-17. When I wrote Friends & Enemies, I put Paul Braedel in a B-17 to get him into Germany at a time when the only American military personnel in Germany were downed airmen.

The crash of a B-17 today is newsworthy. It’s a rare event. It wasn’t during the war. My research revealed too many instances of bombers crashing on take-off. Full of fuel. Full of bombs. A massive explosion. Fragile bodies torn apart and charred.
Scores of WWII veterans, now in their 90s, are dying every day. Nine-O-Nine may not have been a veteran, but it allowed us to glimpse the past, and now it is gone from our lives, too.

If you have a moment, please vote in the next two days for my e-novella Where My Heart Resides in a Cover of the Month contest at

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