DULUTH, MN — The history of airplanes goes back well over 100 years. The models and capabilities are vast, and so are the stories they tell.
CBS 3 had the honor of taking a flight through history on a B-17 World War II-era plane called the Yankee Lady. While she was built too late to fly in combat, she was one of the 16 “Flying Fortresses” and served the U.S. Coast Guard both in the air and on the sea.
“Oh, this is living history. This is living flying history,” said Roy Nickels, a pilot of the Yankee Lady.
Flown from 1941 to 1945 the B-17 is a warrior.
“Flying over Germany with no fighter escorts for the first part of the war, up at 20,000 feet where it’s freezing cold, it’s windy, it’s dark, it’s uncomfortable, and there are people trying to kill you,” recalled Nickels.
That was the reality for soldiers during World War II.
Their bravery is what motivates Nickels and his volunteer crew to fly the Yankee Lady.
“We fly it basically to honor those who did in the war. We think their sacrifice is extraordinary. Every time I get in this airplane and look around I cannot believe these guys did what they did.”
Walking through the bomber plane gives a glimpse into life as a soldier on a B-17.
“It’s very cramped. This definitely was not built for comfort,” said Nickels.
While it might have been a challenging space for me to navigate, Nickels said during wartime, it was much more difficult.
“Imagine doing this also with a big heavy fleece flight suit on and maybe also wearing a parachute. You’re really not gonna be able to move around.”
Walking through the plane it’s clear that the past had a strong presence.
Nickels credits that to a near ten-year restoration.
“I think I can say, even though I’m biased, that this is probably the finest restored B-17 flying in the world and there are only 10 or 11 of them in the entire world.”
As the crew prepared for takeoff, Nickels remembered the soldiers who once fought in the B-17.
“Take a few moments to contemplate what it was like 75 years ago to work and fight in something like this.”
The memory of those who sacrificed so much is not lost on the Yankee Lady.
“As time goes on things get further back into the past and we tend to forget them a little bit. It’s our goal to try to spark an interest in the history of the second world war and how important it was for what we have today.”
From the blue skies above Duluth, the Yankee Lady showed her strength once again.