Take a Ride on a World War II Bomber

Vintage aircraft to be on display at historic Allegheny County Airport

By Rick Wills

Published June 17, 2024

Read Time: 4 mins


Two iconic and now rare World War II bomber planes are on display and available for rides at Allegheny County Airport (AGC) this week and weekend.

Maid in the Shade, a B-25 Mitchell, and Sentimental Journey, a B-17 Flying Fortress, will be at the airport – located about 10 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh in West Mifflin, Pa. – from Tuesday through Sunday. Paid flights are available Friday through Sunday.

“It’s a connection to history, a way to preserve the memory of the greatest generation,” Lance Bagnoff, the airport’s director, said of the event. AGC hosted a similar event last year.

The event is run by the Airbase Arizona Flying Museum of Mesa, Ariz., whose “Flying Legends of Victory Tour,” starts in May and ends in September and includes shows in more than a dozen cities in the United States and Canada.

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Sentimental Journey” will be one of two aircraft to visit AGC June 25-30 during the Flying Legends Tour. (Photo by Andrew Stemple)

Few warplanes still active

With the 80th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy commemorated earlier this month and the 80th anniversary of the end of World War II next year, working planes like the two on display this week are increasingly rare.

“They are expensive to maintain, one reason why there are so few that can still fly,” tour director Mike Garrett, said of the two vintage planes.

The B-17 is just one of three in the world and two in the United States still flying. Sound from Sentimental Journey was recorded for “Masters of the Air,” an AppleTV series about the 100th Bomb Group that operated out of eastern England during World War II.

More than 12,000 B-17 bombers were manufactured during World War II. B-17s dropped over 640,000 tons of bombs over Europe.

A price of hundreds of dollars for a 25-minute ride at AGC does not deter from the show’s popularity.

“It’s living history. It’s remembering veterans. For some people who’ve been on flights, it’s remembering members of their own family who served and flew planes like these two,” Garrett said.

The Boeing B-17 was most famous for operations in Europe but was used in every theater of the war. Its cruise speed was about 160 miles per hour with a maximum altitude of 36,000 feet.

The B-17 was not a quiet or relaxing aircraft. Many crew members contracted frostbite from flying at high altitudes in the unheated aircraft.

The North American B-25 medium bomber was one of America’s most famous airplanes of World War II. It was the type used by Gen. Jimmy Doolittle for the Tokyo Raid on April 18, 1942. Subsequently, B-25s saw duty in every combat area being flown by the Dutch, British, Chinese, Russians and Australians, in addition to U.S. forces.

Named for Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell, the charismatic airpower prophet who proved in 1921 and 1923 that planes could sink battleships, the B-25 Mitchell gained an unsurpassed reputation as a ground-attack bomber and ship killer.

Maid in the Shade served with the 319th Bomb Group, 437th Squadron at Serragia Airbase, in Corsica. The plane flew 15 combat missions over Italy and Yugoslavia between Nov. 4 and Dec. 31, 1944. The majority of the targets were railroad bridges.

After the war, the plane was used as a trainer before being sold at auction and used as an insect sprayer. It was acquired by Airbase in 1981 and after a 28-year extensive restoration, flew again in 2009.

The B-25 Mitchell “Maid in the Shade” flew 15 combat missions over Italy and Yugoslavia in late 1944. In 2009, the aircraft returned to flight after undergoing 28 years of restoration. (Photo by Andrew Stemple)

Vintage Airport

The Allegheny County Airport, a vintage Art Deco building that opened in 1931, complements the vintage planes.

Dedicated four years after Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, the airport is a timepiece. In its nine decades, a parade of notables has landed there, including Presidents Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

In September 1941, Eleanor Roosevelt landed at the airport before meeting with Pittsburgh’s African American leaders, visiting a new housing development and speaking on behalf of stepped-up defense manufacturing months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Ground tours of the aircraft will be open to the public after their arrival from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and from 2 to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

To schedule a ride, book online at www.flyinglegendstour.com or call 480-462-2992.

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