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Aug 12, 2011 1:08 AM by Matt Stafford

WWII vets get a ride on restored B-17 Bomber

Members of the 381st Bombardment Group, who flew missions during World War II, are reuniting in Colorado Springs.

It's a lot of emotions at once, seeing old friends and thinking about the ones who aren't here.

"It's been a long time," says Lin Chew, a retired tail gunner for the 381st BG. "You don't see anybody 60, 70 years."

"I just want to remember some of my crew, that got killed," says Dick Schneider, another retired tail gunner from the 381st BG.

It's been a while -- about 70 years -- since the 381st was flying missions over Europe. Back then they were riding in the B-17 Bomber -- "the Flying Fortress". The remaining members of the 381st got to see a fully restored version in Colorado Springs, Thursday. It's one of only 11 of that model of plane from the World War II-era that is still flyable.

Robinson says if you give him an hour or so and he might be able to fly it again; he says the B-17 was "an easy bird to fly".

"There's not many "17's" left," says Robinson. "Especially with a marking." The one they saw on Thursday had their marking, the triangle "L".

"This is pretty authentic; there's a lot of things we took off -- like the oxygen system that we just don't need anymore -- but these engines are all original, the airframe is original," says Pat Elliott, a pilot for Commemorative Air Force, the group who restored the plane and brought it to Colorado Springs. They offer rides in the planes for money, in order to keep up restoration projects for old planes. They let the veterans from the 381st fly for free Thursday.

Once the group was aboard the plane, they noticed it still looked a lot like it did in the 40s.

"The ball turret; that horrible thing still looks the same," says Nick Hahn, a retired engineer and top turret gunner for the 381st.

Many of the veterans haven't seen a plane like this since the 40s, but they remember the feeling when the engines rev up. A couple of laps around Colorado Springs brought back a whole lot of memories; good and bad as they point out, but they wouldn't trade them for anything. The smiles the veterans had when they got back on the ground were proof of that.

The B-17 Bomber will be in Colorado Springs through the weekend. It's being kept at Cutter Aviation (1360 Aviation Way) in Colorado Springs. Anyone can go see the plane; you can also pay for a ride. For more information on Commemorative Air Force, click here.

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