“This is so cool,” said Spruce Creek Elementary School classmate Thomas Yost, who stood just barely taller than the massive aircraft´s main landing gear wheel.
The pair, along with the rest of their fifth-grade class, were on a tour Tuesday of American Aero Services at the city´s Municipal Airport. The business is performing annual maintenance work on the 56-year-old aircraft.
The plane, known as a Flying Fortress, belongs to the Collings Foundation, and teacher Kathy Ritchey decided to take advantage of its visit to give her pupils a look back in time.
“We are studying World War II,” she said, “and these kids learn better hands on.”
Ritchey said the field trip is part of her American history curriculum that will include a talk from World War II veterans and the creation of a video documentary about the war and its impact on the nation.
“It is going to be entitled ‘Memories, United We Stand.’ We want to document this history before it is too late,” she said.
The youngsters peppered American Aero Services owner Gary Norville with dozens of questions as he walked them around the aircraft, peering inside its bomb bay and through hatches in the skin.
“This is neat,” Norville said as he watched the youngsters touch the propellers and peer at its .50-caliber machine guns. “It teaches them about airplanes and aviation. These could be the next generation of pilots, mechanics and designers.”
He also liked the historical aspect of the visit, saying it is important to keep the past alive in the minds of youth.
“The knowledge of our (World War II) veterans is dying,” he said. “This helps pass it on.”
Eleven-year-old Thomas Yost, who thought the bomber was “so cool,” said he thinks it is important to study history because he needs to know what is going on in the world and learning about the past can help you know about the future.
Classmate Laura Dodson, 10, said when she looked at the warplane it reminded her of the “craziness” of war.
“War is crazy because so many people die,” she said, “and we are in one again.”
She also questioned the sanity of the brave men who went into battle in aircraft like the B-17.
“They had to be crazy because it had to be hard to drive and they could die real easy,” she said.
One of those “crazy” people was Charles Tucker of New Smyrna Beach.
Just moments after young Laura and her classmates ended their tour, the former B-17 ball-turret gunner walked onto the tarmac to look at the historic aircraft.
“I didn´t even know it was here,” he said.
Tucker flew 20 missions with the 94th Bomber Group over Germany in 1944-45 before the war ended. Seeing a plane similar to the one he crewed brought back a lot of memories.
“One flight I was in the turret and suddenly the plexi-glass (windows) fogged up. I couldn´t see anything,” he said. “I called my captain and he knew immediately what had happened.”
Apparently, Tucker said, the navigator had urinated out of the plane and it sprayed back onto the turret, icing over the windows.
“The captain told me to stay there and keep the ball moving so they (the enemy fighters) would at least think it was working,” he said.
It is pleasant memories like that one that you remember, said the 82-year-old. “The unpleasant ones, you don´t.”