KINGMAN – The local chapter of Experimental Aircraft Association is working to bring the parent organization’s B-17G “Aluminum Overcast” bomber to Kingman Airport for a three-day display in February.
Tim Gerlach, president of EAA Chapter 765, said he doesn’t yet have the “green light” from EAA headquarters in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, but everything is going in the right direction.
Gerlach needs support from Kingman Airport and the local community to bring the iconic World War II bomber to the airport, where it will be available Feb. 16-19 for public viewing, tours and flights.
Ground tours are open to the public at a cost of $10, with three flights a day aboard the B-17 starting at $409 for EAA members.
“The B-17 has a historic connection to our airport,” Gerlach said. “This is where many were based during the war and thousands of gunners and crew members were trained.”
After the war, 1,800 of the planes were brought back to Kingman for storage and disposal, he added.
Each year, EEA takes the B-17 on a tour of the country, and contacted the local chapter about hosting the aircraft. It will be on display at Deer Valley Airport in the Phoenix area the prior weekend.
“They asked if we’d be interested and we said, ‘Absolutely.’ We think it’s important because of the historical significance,” Gerlach said.
He reached about 3,700 people with a Facebook post about the B-17 possibly coming to Kingman. He received messages from someone whose grandfather worked at the base, and was told there’s a veteran in Kingman who flew on the B-17 during the war.
“A lot of people are excited that we can get this together. I kind of suspected we’d get that much interest and participation and enthusiasm,” Gerlach said. “We still have a lot of veterans and their family who were at the base.”
There were insurance issues and safety and security requirements for the event to take place at Kingman Airport, and those hurdles appear to have been cleared with the help of airport Executive Director Dave French.
Gerlach contacted Air ’Zona Aircraft Services, the fixed-base operator at Kingman Airport, about a possible discount on fuel price. EEA is asking the local chapter to pay a certain amount for 500 gallons of fuel, which costs about $4.70 a gallon. That’s close to $2,350.
“These aircraft are very expensive to fly. They’ve got four hungry engines that gobble up gas,” Gerlach said. “Whatever we don’t come up with, we’re going to have to come up with whatever remains.”
The crew of six will need hotel accommodations and ground transportation, and Gerlach is hoping one of the local motels will give them a discount on room rates.
“So far it’s been pretty encouraging in the week since I spoke to EEA,” Gerlach said Thursday. “They plan this several months out, so we don’t have much time.”
The Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” was used primarily in Europe during World War II, participating in countless missions from bases in England with flights lasting more than eight hours. Because of their long-range capability, the B-17s often flew in formation without fighter escorts and struck targets deep within enemy territory.
In May 1942, the Army Air Force authorized construction of a gunnery school in Kingman. Estimated cost was about $9 million.
In addition to the main facility, several emergency air strips were built. There was one at Red Lake, about 17 miles northeast of the base. Others were built near Topock and Yucca. Another was built at what is now Lake Havasu City Airport.
Kingman Airport was used as a “storage depot” for the planes after the war, but that’s a bit of a misnomer, according to the Mohave Museum of History and Arts.
The intent was to smelt thousands of airplanes down to aluminum ingots. Along with the B-17s, there were B-24s, P38s and B-26s.
“Never mind they were created for the purpose of mass destruction, these planes represented some of the finest and most complex examples of mechanical art ever produced by the human race up to that time,” an article from the Mohave Museum said.
By 1948, 70 million pounds of aluminum from 7,000 airplanes were shipped out of Kingman.
Relatively few of the airplanes escaped destruction, and some are still flying today. Others are on display in museums.