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RELIVING AN ERA Catching a flight into history DISPLAY: Bomber used in World War II provides glimpse of what it was like in battle.

Byline: C.J. Lin Staff Writer

It was nearly 66 years ago that Art Sherman, then a bombardier navigator with the 15th Air Force, flew his first mission in a B-24 aircraft.

It was May 2, 1944, and his was one of a thousand bombers in formation over Italy. And then, right in front of Sherman, two of them collided midair in a fiery explosion.

"After that, I realized I could get killed," recalled Sherman, 88, of Encino. "Was I scared? Of course I was scared, are you crazy?"

But Sherman continued to fly in B-24s, then B-25s, and then the B-17, a four-engine bomber known as the "Flying Fortress."

Memories of those World War II missions came flooding back Thursday as Sherman watched a B-17 nicknamed the "Aluminum Overcast" taxi down a Van Nuys Airport runway and pop open its hatch, ready to take him for a ride over the San Fernando Valley.

Sherman was ecstatic during the 20-minute flight. He swiveled around in the nose turret, peeked in the bomb payload bay and grabbed the nonoperational machine guns.

In the middle of the plane, where a top hatch had been opened, he paused, looked up at the sky, took off his cap and shook his head as the wind whipped his white hair.

"I look at the plane and I see, compared with today's armaments and what they can do, how primitive everything we had was," Sherman said. "It just was so tough on these guys, and they did a good job."

This weekend, the public can also feel that experience. Today through Sunday at Syncro Aviation in Van Nuys, people can explore the plane on the ground and even take 30-minute flights. More information can be found at www.b17.org.

The Aluminum Overcast was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corps on May 18, 1945, too late for it to be used in combat. It was then sold for $750 as surplus inventory and has since flown more than 1 million miles as a cargo hauler, aerial mapping platform, and for pest control and forest dusting.

In 1978, it was bought by a group of B-17 enthusiasts. They restored much of its equipment, including waist-high machine guns and top and tail turrets. It was donated to the Experimental Aircraft Association in 1983.

"Whoever keeps the airplane in this condition, they did a good job - it's a 65-year-old plane," said Sherman, who was wounded by flying shrapnel during one mission. "It did bring back good memories. Unfortunately, it brought back sad memories, too - but that's another story."

The Aluminum Overcast is one of only 14 operable B-17s in the world. The B-17 exhibition is part of EAA's 2010 "Salute to Veterans" tour and a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the B-17.

"It's the chance of a lifetime, an opportunity that may never come around again," said Albert Olivari, another veteran who watched the Aluminum Overcast as it sat on the runway. Olivari, of Calabasas, flew 21 missions over Germany as a togglier gunner beginning in February 1945.

Olivari suffered minor injuries when a brass ammunition casing broke through the plexiglass nose of the plane and struck him in the stomach. Another time, however, he came close to death when he passed out because he couldn't reach his oxygen tank as the plane flew upwards of 25,000 feet in 50-below temperatures.

"It'll bring you closer to all the sacrifices that the veterans of that era went through," Olivari said.

cj.lin@dailynews.com

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 16, 2010
Words:589
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