Travis Griffin takes a photo of his uncle Kenneth Morang inside a B-17 bomber at the Owls Head Transportation Museum on Monday. Morang is a World War II veteran from Lincolnville. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

OWLS HEAD — Kenneth Morang leaned against a .50-caliber machine gun to peer out the Plexiglas window of the B-17 bomber cruising above Camden and Rockland along the coast of Penobscot Bay.

The dull roar of four propellers driving the World War II-era plane prevented casual conversation, but Morang watched out the window, a smile on his face, until he sat back in his webbed canvas seat to give his legs a rest.

“That was wonderful,” said Morang, 89, after the airplane landed gently on the runway at Knox County Regional Airport. The brief flight was the first time in 20 years that Morang had been up in an airplane and about 70 years since he jumped out of transport planes as a U.S. paratrooper in Japan. Morang never flew in a B-17 during the war, but the bomber was instantly recognizable as a symbol of the conflict.

“I felt like I was flying over Germany in 1944,” said Morang, of Lincolnville. “I can imagine how they felt flying these. They must have been very brave.”

Sentimental Journey, one of the last remaining B-17 Flying Fortress bombers still flying, touched down Monday afternoon at the Owls Head Transportation Museum. The 73-year-old plane is owned by Commemorative Air Force, a Mesa, Arizona, nonprofit dedicated to preserving vintage military aircraft. The plane will take part in the Wings and Wheels Spectacular, nicknamed The Rally, during the museum’s annual air show and antique automobile show this weekend.

Piloting the bomber can be challenging, said Capt. Travis Major, the volunteer pilot who flew Sentimental Journey on Monday. Takeoff and landing can be particularly touchy, but once aloft, Major still feels the thrill of piloting one of only 10 of the bombers still flying.

“People say it is an honor, and it is,” he said. The plane, the most authentic now flying, is an important historic connection between past and present, Major said.

The bomber’s engines start with a sputter and pour smoke. The cramped cabin, divided between cockpit, bomb bay, gun positions and radio station, rattles and fills with fuel fumes when the plane taxis for a takeoff. But once in the air, the craft provides a stable, almost peaceful ride.

“It’s a little surreal. It is fun to fly; it wasn’t for them,” he said, referring to the plane’s wartime crews.

From the cockpit of a B-17 bomber, Capt. Travis Major looks out a window as he prepares to taxi for takeoff at the Owls Head Transportation Museum on Monday. The bomber flew in Monday for the museum’s Wings and Wheels Airshow this coming weekend. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

The Boeing B-17 was designed as a heavy bomber before World War II, and the planes were used extensively during the air campaign against German industrial and military targets. Although more than 12,500 B-17s were built for the war, about 70 percent were lost, Major said. Unless there was an immediate postwar application, many of the surviving bombers were smelted down soon after the war ended.

Sentimental Journey never saw combat, but served as a mapping plane, a search-and-rescue craft in Florida and a “mother ship” for unmanned aircraft collecting data from nuclear weapons tests. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was retrofitted as a firefighting airplane in the western U.S.

The relic, along with a B-25 bomber named Axis Nightmare, will be on public display during the museum event Saturday and Sunday. The air show starts at 1 p.m. both days.

Monday’s flight also included a seat for Arnold Wass, 94, of Rockland. Wass served as an infantryman in the European Theater, ferrying ammo, fuel and supplies to front line units. He never flew in one of the iconic bombers, but the invitation to Monday’s flight brought back memories, not all of them good, said his son, Dwight Wass.

In the days before the flight, Arnold Wass told stories of watching some B-17s come down in balls of flame and rushing out to recover the remains of crews. But even with a hearing aid, his ears pricked up when he heard the bomber coming in for a landing.

“He even knows what they sound like,” his son said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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