Iowa WWII Veteran Rides in “Aluminum Overcast” B-17 Bomber Plane

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ANKENY, Iowa — The Aluminum Overcast B-17 Bomber Plane is back in central Iowa for a few days for ground tours and flights from Ankeny Regional Airport.

B-17 planes were made for bombing missions in World War II and there are only about 14 of them left that still fly.

Aluminum Overcast was built in 1945 for active service in WWII but was sent to the Army Air Corps too late to ever make it into battle.

“It’s just a great airplane it was used in bombing missions mainly and it was built to fly straight and level so it’s not real maneuverable,” B-17 Pilot Shawn Knickerbocker said.

The 44,000 pound Flying Fortress and its crew tours all over the country.

Thursday’s flight had a special passenger, World War II Veteran James Sassaman a former Navigator for the 401st B-17 Bomb Squadron.

“Well I was a navigator so I told people where to go. This was before the days of GPS so you had to do everything with a compass and air speed indicator and things like that, drift meter,” Sassaman said.

On the flight people get to tour the plane and see where bombardiers and navigators, just like Sassaman, performed the most important mission tasks.

He remembers the last two of his 35 missions the best.

“We landed behind our lines and so they came over and flew us back to England and the next day got us up early to go on the 35th mission which I didn’t think they would do that,” Sassaman said.

His 2019 mission on Thursday was more relaxed and one he’ll never forget.

“Good, good, very enjoyable. Noisy though. A little noisier than an airliner,” Sassaman said.

On flight tours guests are only in the air for 25 minutes, but most crews fighting for our freedom on these planes would be in flight for hours.

The plane will be at Ankeny Regional Airport through this sunday. Tickets here.

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