ARLINGTON — It’s 11:03 a.m. Monday morning and the “Sentimental Journey” is three minutes late.
Mike Mueller is looking at his phone to track its arrival, when Karyn King tells him to turn around as she points her camera to the blue sky above Arlington Municipal Airport.
The Commemorative Air Force’s B-17G Flying Fortress, in all its metallic glory, arrived at the airport where it will remain for the next week for tours on the ground and trips through the air for those willing to spend. Of over 12,000 built, it’s one of five such planes still flying.
This one is in the best condition of the bunch, said Mueller, a volunteer for the CAF, donning his well worn Sentimental Journey hat. He’s flown in it dozens of times. It never gets old, he said.
Manufactured in 1944, the four-engined airplane was delivered too late to see much combat in World War II. The bomber, taking its name from a Doris Day song, served in a variety of roles until sold as surplus. It then spent years as a fire bomber, flying missions against wildfires across the country. The Arizona wing of the Commemorative Air Force got it in 1978 and worked to restore it, according to the organization.
Almost 80 years after it was built, the plane is still flying with Hollywood star Betty Grable emblazoned on its side, looking over her shoulder. It’s now based in Arizona, but the summer heat is too much to fly, Mueller said. So the organization tours it around. Before Arlington, the Sentimental Journey stopped in Idaho and eastern Washington.
“It’s a museum artifact that works,” said Robert “Rocky” Racoosin, another volunteer with the Commemorative Air Force. “It’s hard to beat something like that.”
And last week, the bomber was in Seattle. While there, a 99-year-old former pilot, Dick Nelms, signed the inside of the bomb bay, like many others over the years who used to fly such a plane or worked on them as riveters. Nelms flew 35 missions, many of which he could recount like it was yesterday, Racoosin said.
When the warbirds would fly into town, one or two World War II veterans used to come out to check out their old planes, Mueller said. But that has dwindled as much of the Greatest Generation has died.
“We want to keep the memory of that generation alive,” Mueller said.
Last year, one of Arlington’s own B-17 Flying Fortress pilots died at 98. Based in Foggia, Italy, Art Unruh was credited with flying 50 missions. A frequent speaker at high schools and the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum at Paine Field, he also wrote a book, “The Shadow Casters” about his experience.
The B-17 might not be the only bomber in Arlington this week. Barring issues replacing its tires, a B-25 known as Maid in the Shade should arrive Thursday or Friday, Mueller said with his fingers crossed. That plane flew over a dozen combat missions in late 1944 in Italy and Yugoslavia, according to the CAF.
Both planes will be available for ground tours 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. The tours cost $15 per person, or $30 for a family of four. Reservations aren’t required.
And if you want to get 1,500 feet above the ground for a 20-minute ride, trips are available Thursday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Flights on the Sentimental Journey cost $475 for a waist compartment seat and $850 for a navigator spot in the nose. On the Maid in the Shade, it’ll cost $375 for a seat in the radio room and $590 for a jump seat.
Flights can be booked online at azcaf.org/location/arlington-wa-tour-stop.
From Arlington, the warbirds will head south to Salem, Oregon, next week. Then they’re off to Medford and two stops in California, in Hayward and Visalia.
King, an aerial photographer, was excited by the Sentimental Journey’s arrival here Monday.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.