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Garn honors veterans, aviators at air show

June 16th, 2010 Posted in Opinion

Story & Photos by Caresa Alexander

LOGAN—Former U.S. Sen. Jake Garn came to town for the Logan-Cache Airport’s 4th annual Celebration of Flight, sharing the stage and the tarmac with the World War II-vintage B-17G Flying Fortress “Aluminum Overcast.”

Garn, who served as a pilot in the U.S. Navy, the Utah Air National Guard and was also a payload specialist on the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1985, recalled his days on Capitol Hill. He prefers being called a pilot or astronaut, because all that senators do, he said, is “con the voters.”

Garn also paid tribute to American servicemen, and the veterans who were in the audience, many in uniform.

“This is a great day and I personally want to honor the World War II veterans who are here today,” he said, “for all they did, the sacrifices they made, so that we could remain free.”

Garn said he was 13 when WWII ended, but even at that age he wanted to serve his country.

“My military aviation career was the most important thing I have ever done,” Garn said.

He has often shared that perspective with Utah students, including as host of the XIX Congress of the Association of Space Explorers in Salt Lake City in 2005, when 56 astronauts and cosmonauts from 10 nations visited 39 Utah school districts.

As part of that tour, Garn visited his hometown of Richfield with cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space. During their visit to the high school, Garn said, Leonov put his arm around him and told the audience that they were brothers.

“The most important thing is that attitudes change, and [that] we learn to treat each other much better than we do,” Garn said, “as we recognize what Alexei said—we’re are all children of God traveling on spaceship Earth together, and we have to treat each other a great deal better than we do.”

A backdrop to Garn’s remarks was the vintage WWII bomber “Aluminum Overcast”—another headliner of the Celebration of Flight event. Refurbished by the Wisconsin-based Experimental Aircraft Association (www.eaa.org), the B-17 and other classic aircraft tour the country to promote awareness and understanding of aviation. This year, the EAA’s “Salute To Veterans” national tour will honor veterans across the country.

The EAA’s Michael Digangi says people who attend the tour have told him it is a memorable experience. Digangi said he especially likes it when veterans come back from a flight aboard a WWII plane and tell him that it is a more enjoyable experience when people are not shooting at them.

Digangi said “Alumninum Overcast,” never saw combat because it was delivered to the war too late. In 1946 the bomber was declared surplus and sold for $750. Since then, it has flown more than 1 million miles, first doing aerial surveys, mapping and pest control and forest operations, and now as a national ambassador.

In 1978 a group of eight doctors, led by Dr. Bill Harrision, purchased the bomber. Their interest was to restore the airplane and fly it around the world. Since the cost was going to be greater than expected, the group donated the B-17 to the EAA in 1983.

The restoration process took 10 years. Waist guns, communication equipment and a top turret are among the equipment that had to be purchased and restored to the bomber.

Digangi said the “Aluminum Overcast” was painted to resemble the “Bronx Bomber II,” flown by Air Force Col. Harold (Hal) Weekley, the last surviving B-17 combat pilot from World War II. Weekley flew the “Aluminum Overcast” for the EAA until he turned 80, Digangi said.

According to the B-17 website (www.b17.org), 12,732 of the aircraft were built. Of those, Digangi said, only about a dozen are still flying. Other famous B-17’s include “Memphis Belle” and “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby.” Currently the “Memphis Belle” is undergoing its own 10-year restoration.

“Aluminum Overcast” can carry 1,700 gallons of fuel and burns 200 gallons of fuel an hour, Digangi said. At an average cost of $5 a gallon, the operating expense for the bomber is around $3,200 an hour.

The EAA holds a yearly air show called AirVenture that Digangi said attracts 750,000 people. He thinks the tours are important for communities.

“I think we need to keep the history alive because there are a lot of people in the world that are trying to change the history, say that what happened didn’t happen,” Digangi said. “You really don’t know who you are unless you know where you came from.

“These people that fought this war really did make America what it is today,” he said.


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