B-17 remembered at Ellington Airport

Friday, September 17, 2010
Nearly 1,000 people coming and going to Lewisburg's Ellington Airport on Monday saw this B-17 bomber, according to airport manager Clay Derryberry, calling that "just a preacher's guess."

The Yankee Lady, a museum-quality B-17 bomber, landed at Lewisburg's Ellington Airport on Sunday and took visitors for rides on Monday when she helped promote a Marshall County resident's book about a bomber pilot's place in history as the Cold War succeeded World War II.

"The Wars of Myron King: A B-17 Pilot Faces WWII and U.S.-Soviet Intrigue," by history professor James Lee McDonough of Lewisburg, tells of a battle-torn bomber landing in Poland where the pilot was accused of violating an article of war forbidding unauthorized civilians in military planes. King became a pawn on the world's chessboard.

Therefore, the Flying Fortress, owned by the Yankee Museum at Willow Run Airport just southeast of Detroit, became: the attraction for perhaps 1,000 people to Lewisburg's airport; and the noise in Marshall County's sky toward which uncounted residents looked to see a plane like many more that filled the skies of Tennessee and Europe more than half a century ago.

Airplane wings were made in Nashville and bomber pilots were trained at the airbase in Smyrna, so the skies here were where many of the Flying Fortresses were tested and used to train pilots, according to Drew Davidson, a veteran who practices law on Lewisburg's public square.

Richard Baty retold childhood memories of when his father was a night superintendent at the Vultee Aircraft Co. in Nashville. Baty would sit on a fence perhaps 100 yards from where warplanes would turn to face the runway.

The wind from the props "would just about blow me off the fence," he said.

Also at Ellington Airport were Colin and June Ripley of Culleoka. During World War II he lived in Portsmouth, England, and she in nearby Southampton. Both towns were staging areas for D-Day. As a child, she watched German planes fly over to bomb London and danced on a truck tailgate to entertain Allied troops.

Colin Ripley paid the $425 to ride the Yankee Lady on Monday "because he's always wanted to," June Ripley said.

They live in South Central Tennessee because "My sister met one of your soldier boys and moved here."

Mack Bowden of Lewisburg flew Monday, the first time airborne in something other than a jetliner.

"It's something in history," the Walker Die Casting employee said. "With all the controversy about bombs (including improvised explosive devices) and burning the Koran ... you can see the separation" between some tactics and a mechanized method of war.

B-17s are "not hard to fly," said Ray Hunter, one of eight pilots who rotate on duty for the Yankee Museum, a nonprofit organization that bought the plane built in 1945 that had been turned over to the Coast Guard for reconnaissance and then as a fire bomber in the western United States in the 1980s.

Its nine-cylinder engines develop 1,200 horsepower with 1,280 cubic inches of cylinder space. Loaded with 1,700 gallons of fuel, the plane weighs 50,000 pounds and 34,000 empty. The plane's top speed is 170 mph. It consumes 200 gallons of 100-octane aviation gasoline per hour.

One passenger became airsick during one of the three joy rides Monday, according to Joyce Lee who lives near Ellington Airport.

Bob Christoph of Titan Way flew a submarine hunter for the Navy over the Pacific during the Cold War. The P-3's 100-foot wingspan is just five feet shorter than the B-17's.

"The B-17 is an amazing aircraft," Christoph said. "We're really blessed to have had an opportunity to see one... It's a messenger from an historic era."

Myron King's biographer would have to agree and McDonough's book benefited from his relationship with King.

"I've known him," McDonough said. "Not well... My parents were good friends of the woman he married... He grew up half on Long Island and half in Chattanooga."

McDonough's taught at Lipscomb and Pepperdine universities and now at Auburn.

When he wrote "The Wars of Myron King," three of King's B-17 crew were alive and it's led to remarkable insights on the events including: the plane's loss of two engines over Berlin; the discovery of a stowaway when the plane landed in Poland; and allegations that he was involved in terrorism and sabotage facilitated by the British.

As McDonough told of how King's court martial was to be part of America's negotiations with the Soviets to fight the Japanese, the Yankee Museum sold toy airplanes and dog tags for children.