History in the sky over Hill Air Force Base

Approaching from the north, a vintage B-17 bomber aircraft passed through airspace above Hill Air Force Base on Aug. 13. The flyover was special, considering the base’s history.

On January 12, 1940, ground was broken for the Ogden Air Depot at what was then called Hill Field. The name “Hill Field” was chosen in honor of Army Air Corps Maj. Ployer P. Hill, who died October 30, 1935, in a Boeing Model 299 aircraft crash, while testing it at Wright Field, Ohio. Though a sad ending to an adventurous life, his name lives on 75 years later at Hill AFB.

Boeing Model 299 does not sound very daunting. However, the Model 299 ultimately became known as the B-17 “Flying Fortress,” a bomber aircraft that would change air warfare during World War II and is revered today for its prowess in the skies seven decades ago. 

According to Air Force records, B-17s dropped 640,036 tons of bombs, more than any other aircraft during the war. The last B-17 was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1945 and, according to Shawn Knickerbocker, a pilot with the Experimental Aircraft Association, its production run ended at 12,731.

Today, there are fewer than a dozen airworthy B-17s flying around the world. Of those, one is owned by EAA, a community of aviation enthusiasts who promote and support recreational flying. It appeared above Hill AFB last week. 

EAA’s B-17, serial number 44-85740, was produced and delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corps near the end of World War II; it never saw combat action.

“In 1945, it was sold as scrap for $758 … with a full tank of gas!” said Knickerbocker.

Since its humble end and rescue from the scrapyard, the aircraft, now known as “Aluminum Overcast,” has been completely restored and has since flown over 1 million miles. It now has stories of its own to tell.

According to Knickerbocker, the aircraft has been used for purposes ranging from mapping the continent of Africa to hauling livestock from Miami to Puerto Rico.

Today, EAA’s B-17 honors and respects our military men and women, both past and present, flying to locations around the United States.

Recognizing the legacy of the B-17, EAA painted its aircraft to resemble B-17G #42-102515 of the 398th Bombardment Group (Heavy) that flew from RAF Nuthampstead, U.K., during World War II. That aircraft was shot down over Le Manior, France, on Aug. 13, 1944, during its 34th combat mission.

“The B-17 is truly the essence of aviation,” said Aluminum Overcast Commander John Bode.

Aluminum Overcast flew through Aug. 16 from Ogden-Hinckley Airport.

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