Ride the Wind in ‘Witchcraft’ – an old B24

By Dave Sheehy (Aerodog)

These bombers came and went in one day because of weather and – so – I missed a flight but my son, Aerodog, wrote it all up for me.  Here we go:

“The preflight briefing is completed and we are mounting up as directed.  The seat belts are WW2 style buckles and foreign to us as modern flyers.  The flight crew has an eagle eye and makes sure we all figure out how to buckle ourselves in.

The first engine starter engages and soon we are hearing the big radial engines coughing into a rolling idle.  A smoke cloud rolls into the bomb bay under our feet.  The smell, vibration and sound of a WW2 bomber starting a mission is filling every sense and creating anticipation of what is to happen.

The brakes squeal as the aircraft taxis to the run up area.  These are expander tube brakes and they are very efficient when it comes to stopping an airplane.  The big bomber stops at the run up area just off the end of the runway.

The crew now starts the preflight engine run up.  The throttles are pushed up and the propeller levers are cycled to send warm engine oil to the prop domes to ensure proper operation of the pitch change mechanism of the blades.  Magnetos are turned off and then on to ensure proper operation.  There are no computers in this flying machine.  All systems are verified operational by the pilots.  The airframe is shaking and vibrating under our feet and seats and we can feel that this bird wants to go.

The engine noise is unlike any other aircraft flying.  The waist gun ports on the sides of the fuselage are wide open with no window glass and the full force of the noise and wind is awe inspiring!  We gather speed and lift off the runway 0 7.jpginto the skies over Plymouth.  The pilot presses a button and a bell rings to signal that we go explore the aircraft for the next 30 minutes.

My seat mates and I are actually strapped into floor positions just forward of the waist gun openings.  We stand up and we can feel the floor pushing up and falling as the pilots climb through some slight chop in the air.  The open gunports are strangely not windy inside the airplane but when you man the machine gun mounted in the port you can feel the air load pushing back on the gun barrel as you move it.  I feel the same feeling that a WW2 gunner felt as his plane headed out for a mission over Germany as far as the flying experience, and, I think about how scared those kids must have been knowing that death waited for them during each mission.0.jpg

My next stop after the waist gun mounts is the tail gun turret. It is a tiny space where you can sit on a small bench and place your feet on the pedals that once controlled the movement of the turret as the gunner tracked inbound enemy fighters.  You can grip the triggers and peer through the optical gunsight.  All this exploring is done with the wind rushing by your ears and the tail of the big bomber swinging gently side to side as the crew circles our plane out over Kingston.  I can  see Rocky Nook and the beaches of Plymouth below.  Odd to see the sights of Kingston looking through a machine gun sight.  I make my way forward to the bomb bay, remembering that during our preflight mission briefing we were advised NOT to step off the catwalk onto the bomb bay doors because they WILL open and you don’t want to take that trip.  The engine noise is louder here and I take my earplugs out for a few seconds to enjoy it.  Absolutely mind numbing amount of noise in between those four radials.

One of the drawbacks to having a full passenger load of 10 on the mission is the other people tend to jam up the catwalks and access to the cockpit.  I have toured this airplane on the ground already and decided to spend my mission time as a waist or tail gunner, so after a quick tour of the bomb bay I return to the waist guns and start taking pictures with my Nikon.

Flying in the B24 with the open gunports is probably the high point of my 3 bomber missions with the Collings foundation.  The B24 is huge and the open side ports allow for excellent air to ground photo opportunities.

On today’s flight we have a 93 year old guy who was on a US Navy destroyer in WW2.  As a group, each time he needed to climb over or up on, or into a turret or ladder we lifted him up to make sure he got to see everything.  He was pretty happy to have the experience!  There was also a fighter pilot walking around the airplane before we left and images 3.jpg  he was a Tuskegee Airman!  A red tailed P51 pilot from WW2.  I heard someone asking him if he flew a bomber and he replied, no, I escorted them home.  Classic understatement!

Thanks Aerodog –  Great Ride

Thanks Collings Foundation – you’re awesome!!