I have always wanted to see a World War II B-17 bomber; I thought I would never have the opportunity to view such an aircraft ... I was wrong!
As I was looking through a local newspaper recently, I came upon an announcement that a non-profit foundation would soon be flying both a B-17 aircraft and a B-24 aircraft into historic Moffett Field in Mountain View, California. Moffett Field is about 60 miles southwest from my home in Berkeley, California. Although I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 30 years, I have never visited Moffett Field. So I would not only have an opportunity to see two extraordinary World War II aircraft, I would also have a reason to visit Moffett Field.
If you live in the Bay Area it is very likely you have seen the huge Moffett Field dirigible hanger from adjacent freeways or hillside locations. Moffett Field was originally commissioned as Naval Air Station Sunnyvale in 1933 to serve as a base for the West Coast dirigibles of the Navy's lighter-than-air program. Moffett Field was built to house the biggest aircraft of its day: the USS Macon, a 785 foot long dirigible that arrived at Moffett Field for the first time in 1933. To house it, the Navy built the massive Hangar 1, one of the best known landmarks in the Bay Area. The Macon was intended to provide long range reconnaissance for the Pacific Fleet, but it flew only eight missions before it crashed off the coast of Monterey in 1935. Soon after the airship Macon was lost, the base was transferred to the Army Air Corps.
In early 1942, the base was transferred back to the Navy and renamed Naval Air Station Moffett Field in honor of Rear Admiral W.A. Moffett who had died in the crash of the USS Macon's sister ship, USS Akron.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the military decided it needed aircraft to patrol the Pacific Ocean for enemy submarines and mines, and the Navy responded by restarting the lighter than air project with smaller blimps 246 feet in length. Even Hangar 1 was insufficient to house all the activity around the revitalized lighter than air reconnaissance project. In 1942, two more huge hangars were constructed in record time, primarily out of wood and concrete because of the war time shortage of steel. As many as 20 blimps at a time were on duty at the base during the war years. But as jet airplanes were developed and began to take over the functions of the blimps, the lighter than air program went into decline. In 1947, the last blimp at Moffett Field was deflated. The era of lighter than air ships was over.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Navel Air Station Moffett Field served as a major naval air transport base. In 1962 the Navy relocated Moffett's jet aircraft squadrons to a new air station at Lemoore, in a remote section of the California San Joaquin Valley. There was much speculation as to the future of Moffett Field. Then came the announcement that Moffett Field was selected as the site of introduction on the west coast for the Navy's newest, fastest and most effective submarine hunter-killer aircraft, the P-3V Orion. Moffett Field returned to its original mission of long range reconnaissance and anti-submarine patrols with the arrival of the Navy’s newest anti-submarine aircraft. By 1973, aircraft based at Moffett Field were responsible for patrolling approximately 93 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean, an area stretching from the coast of Alaska to Hawaii.
In 1992, the base was designated for closure; Moffett Field was closed as a military base on July 1, 1994. Later in July 1994, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) assumed control of the Naval Air Station Moffett Field facility and changed its name to Moffett Federal Airfield.
Moffett Field is located on the border of the cities of Mountain View and Sunnyvale in northern California, in the heart of "Silicon Valley" at the southern end of San Francisco Bay.
The B-17 "Flying Fortress" Bomber
During World War II, the B-17 Flying Fortress was widely recognized for its high altitude strategic bombing effectiveness and its ability to absorb tremendous punishment while bringing its crews back alive.
The champion of this durability and strength was the 91St Bomb Group, 323rd Squadron plane "Nine-O-Nine" #42-31909 that flew 140 missions without an abort or loss of a crewman.
Assigned to combat duty on February 25, 1944, by April 1945 "Nine-0-Nine" had dropped 562,000 pounds of bombs, flown 1129 hours, and changed 21 engines, 4 wing panels, 15 main gas tanks and 18 supplemental fuel tanks. She also suffered considerable flak damage.
After European hostilities ended, "Nine-0-Nine'- with her 600 holes due to flak damage - flew back to the United States. While the rigors of war never stopped her, she finally succumbed to the scrapper's guillotine along with thousands of other proud aircraft.
The B-17G, now restored as "Nine-0-Nine", was built at Long Beach, California by Douglas Aircraft Company and was accepted by the US Government on 7 April 1945. Although she was too late to be used for combat duty, she did serve as part of the Air/Sea 1st Rescue Squadron and later in the Military Air Transport Service.
In April 1952, #44-83575 was rigged with instruments and subjected to the effects of 3 different nuclear explosions. After a 13 year nuclear radiation "cool down" period, #44-83575 was sold, and a private company began the restoration of the aircraft. Damaged skin was fabricated and replaced on site; engines and propellers were stripped, cleaned, repaired, and tested; 4000 ft. of new control cable was installed; and all electrical wiring and instrumentation was replaced. Soon the sounds of four 1200 HP Wright-Cyclone engines echoed across the Arizona desert, and #44-83575 rose into the sky.
For the next 20 years, #44-83575 served as a fire bomber, dropping water and borate on forest fires without a major problem or incident. She was sold in January 1986; restored back to her wartime configuration, she represented one of the finest B-17 restorations.
In August of 1987, while performing at an air show in western Pennsylvania, "Nine-0-Nine" was caught by a severe crosswind just moments after touchdown. Despite the efforts of her crew, she rolled off the end of the runway, crashed through a chain link fence, sheared off a power pole, and roared down a 100 foot ravine. In the crash, the landing gear was sheared off, the chin turret was smashed, the Plexiglas nose was shattered and the bomb bay doors, fuselage, ball turret, wing, and nacelles all took a tremendous beating. Engines and propellers were torn from their mounts as well. Fortunately, there were only minor injuries to the crew and passengers. With nacelles from the "Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby" and thousands of volunteer hours of repair work, she was again ready to carry on the proud, rugged heritage of the B- 17.
"Nine-0-Nine" has made over 1200 stops across the United States, allowing millions to see the Flying Fortress that helped to change the history of the world.
The B-24 "Liberator" Bomber
The B-24 Liberator was designed by Consolidated Aircraft, to the following specifications: speed - 300 mph, range - 3,000 miles and maximum altitude - 30,000 ft.
The B-24 Liberator first flew in December of 1939. Consolidated Aircraft produced the aircraft at San Diego, California and at Fort Worth, Texas; Ford Motors produced B-24's at Willow Run, Michigan; North American Aviation at Fort Worth, Texas; and Douglas Aviation at Tulsa, Oklahoma. Altogether, 18,479 B-24's were built. During WWII, B-24's flew more missions and dropped more bombs than any other aircraft. It served the United States Army Air Corps in every theater of the war, and flew for 15 Allied Nations.
This particular B-24 was built in August 1944 at Consolidated's Fort Worth plant and it was turned over to the British Royal Air Force in October of 1944. It served in the Pacific until the war ended and it was then abandoned in India. From 1948 until 1968, this B-24 served as a patrol bomber for India.
In 1984 this B-24 was brought back to the US and a lengthy restoration process was undertaken. The cost to reconstruct this aircraft from graveyard condition to fully restored status was over $1,300,000.
A B-24 consists of about 1,250,000 parts. The 97,000+ man-hours of effort that has gone into this project has overhauled every airworthy system, replaced about 1/3 of the skin and over 400,000 rivets, installed 5,000 feet of new hydraulic lines and replaced a mile of control cable and all of the electrical wiring.
After touring for over nine years as "All American", the name and artwork was changed to "Dragon and His Tail". This was done to honor the veterans who served in the Pacific Theater of Operations and to reincarnate the most extensive Nose Art of WWII. "Dragon and His Tail" was flown from the 43rd Bomb Group, 64th Bomb Squadron on 85 missions. The pilots reported that the "Dragon" was always the center of attention with the Japanese fighter pilots. The "Dragon" flew home and was stored at Kingman, Arizona where, despite efforts to save her, she was the last B-24 scrapped.