AF Heritage: The Sentimental Journey

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Steve Stanley
  • Headquarters Air Combat Command Public Affairs
The B-17 known as Sentimental Journey was assembled in late 1944, and was accepted by the U.S. Army Air Force on March 13, 1945. Of the more than 12,000 B-17s built during World War II, few are still in flying order today.

Though never seeing combat in World War II, it provides more insight for visitors into what it may have been like for the 10-man crews that flew daytime bombing missions.

"The Sentimental Journey is the diamond of the group," said Chuck Youngbeck, a B-17 loadmaster with the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, a non-profit volunteer organization.

World War II had been over for two years when the Air Force ended its association with the U.S. Army to become a separate service. The Department of the Air Force was created when President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947.

Following the end of World War II, the B-17 was quickly phased out of use as a bomber and the Army Air Forces retired most of its fleet.

Strategic Air Command (SAC) established in 1946 and eventually absorbed into Air Combat Command, used reconnaissance B-17s until 1949.

"It was designed by geniuses, built by craftsmen and flown by heroes," Youngbeck said. "We're truly blessed to be a part of this."

Assigned now to the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, Sentimental Journey serves to honor the men who flew and crewed the B-17s during the war, as well as the men and women who built them.

"It's wonderful because it is a flying museum," Youngbeck said. "You can watch the movies and read the books but, when you actually come out and touch it, it's a whole new and different experience."

Most of the bombers were melted down or re-purposed, although significant numbers remained in use as VIP transports, air-sea rescue and photo-reconnaissance.

"When we got it, she didn't look like this," Youngbeck said. "She was missing four operational turrets and had almost no military equipment. Most of the work was done in the hot sun and not in a garage or hangar. This is the first B-17 to tour."

The Commemorative Air Force began in Texas in the 1950s with a group of prior Army Air Corps members. The group began accruing old aircraft and, over the years, it has morphed into a nationwide organization with 150 static and touring aircraft spread throughout different locations.

"Some of these people come up in wheelchairs and their families get them up close. Then they touch the side of this plane," explained an emotional Youngbeck. "There is not a dry eye in the house. To see them experience their memories, that is my favorite part on top of all the other great things. It's just incredible what they did."

(Information on this story was provided by the Commemorative Air Force and U.S. Air Force History and Museums)