JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. — This weekend, one of the last B-17 bombers in the world is visiting New Century Airfield in Johnson County, Kansas, giving visitors a chance to see what a World War II plane looks and feels like.
It’s almost impossible not to be transported to another era when coming face-to-face with the plane.
The bomber, called Texas Raiders, is one of fewer than a dozen Flying Fortresses still flying today. Her heyday was 70 years ago in the skies above World War II. She was crewed by young men, such as Burton Madison.
Madison, a WWII veteran from Topeka, actually flew combat missions in B-24s.
"I was a ball turret gunner," Madison said.
But he was trained on B-17s like the Texas Raiders.
"If I'd have gone overseas with the crew that I flew with on the B-17s during training, I don't think I'd have survived it,” Madison said.
The ball turret gunner was stationed at the bottom of the plane. Once in position, Madison would lie on his back, with twin 50-caliber guns between his knees.
"You're at the mercy of whatever happens, you know,” Madison said. “If you had to bail out, you're the last man who could ever get out of that damn plane. You've got an electrically heated suit on, and you had to keep unplugging it every once in a while when you'd get a hot spot behind your knee. While you're looking for fighters, you've got to keep unplugging it to keep from burning yourself."
Madison was one of three WWII veterans to hit the skies again in the B-17 on Friday afternoon. The half-hour flight was unlike anything a civilian can imagine, including open air above your head near the front of the plane and open windows on the sides.
This plane travels around the country with two purposes: to give veterans another chance to fly and to teach younger generations what WWII looked, felt and sounded like.
"It's a very rare, historic airplane,” said Chris Dowell, a crew member for the Texas Raiders. “Every time I sit down in the seat, it just kind of sends chills up your spine to think about what this aircraft did in the 1940s.”
The plane will be at New Century Airfield on Saturday and Sunday. There's no charge to walk around the plane and give it a look.
If you want to go for a ride, it's not cheap. Prices start at $475. But if you just want to get inside the plane and look around, a family of up to five can do so for $20.
Flights will be available at 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.
For more information about the plane, click here.