Now that millions of people in the US are being vaccinated against the coronavirus each week, the country is inching towards some sort of return to normalcy. For warbird fans, the announcement from the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) that their B-17 bomber Aluminum Overcast is returning to a 2021 national tour is welcome news—and takes the aviation community one step closer to finally putting the COVID-19 pandemic at our six.
The upcoming B-17 public flights on the current Aluminum Overcast 2021 Tour Schedule include a stop in Lawrenceville, Georgia, before heading to Florida for stops in Lake City, Lakeland, Punta Gorda, Vero Beach, and Ocala. The B-17 will next make two North Carolina stops in Oak Island and Charlotte, followed by a stop in Wichita, Kansas, before returning to home base in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, from July 26 to August 1 during EAA AirVenture.
EAA flew their “Flying Fortress” on a few Midwest shake-down missions late last year to develop safety protocols allowing the B-17 to again fly members of the public. Like those flights, the new tour stops for 2021 will not allow ground tours, and the aircraft interior will be disinfected following each passenger flight. In addition, masks will be required for all passengers during their flights. EAA said these protocols are subject to change as conditions allow.
“We developed a full protocol for B-17 operations based on the procedures used by the airlines as far as sanitization and passenger rules, following the CDC data that showed that properly masked passengers present an extremely low risk of transmission,” said Sean Elliott, EAA’s vice president of advocacy and safety, who leads the organization’s aircraft operations team. “We also minimized touchpoints in the aircraft by eliminating ground tours of the airplane’s interior at this time. As far as aircraft maintenance, in addition to the detailed inspections required, we completely rebuilt the airplane’s tailgunner section and did other restoration work to keep the aircraft in authentic and top flying condition.”
Aluminum Overcast was built in 1945, but was delivered to the Army Air Corps too late to see active service in World War II. The B-17 was donated to the EAA Aviation Foundation in 1981 with the provision of the aircraft being maintained in airworthy condition. After being displayed at the EAA Aviation Museum in Oshkosh for a decade, the airplane made its national tour debut in the spring of 1994.
“We truly missed bringing this piece of flying history to aviation fans throughout the country last year and we’re very excited to be going back on tour,” said Jack Pelton, EAA’s CEO and chairman of the board. “These B-17 tour stops are more than flights of a historic aircraft—it is an emotional connection to the men and women who were part of the ‘The Greatest Generation’ and the sacrifices they made to benefit us in subsequent generations.”
Mission Flights in the B-17 are $409 for EAA Members and $449 for nonmembers when purchased online in advance, with “walk-up” prices of $435 for members and $475 for nonmembers.