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Sentimental journey

An unusual sight has greeted folks passing by the Hampton Roads Executive Airport this week. A fully restored and flight-worthy B-17 bomber has been parked on the airport apron, and folks have been pulling into the airport for a rare look at a piece of history.

The Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force brought the aircraft, the “Sentimental Journey,” to Hampton Roads for tours and flights, and for some aging veterans the visit has lived up to its name. For others who simply have a love for aviation history, the chance to see one of the few remaining operational copies of this aircraft is too big an opportunity to miss.

“Sentimental Journey” is a Boeing plane that was manufactured by Douglas Aircraft Company under contract. It rolled off an assembly line in California in November 1944 and soon entered the war effort.

But while the first B-17s went into combat in 1941 and earned a deadly reputation with the Japanese, this particular plane didn’t see combat, as the war was already nearly over when it was built. It was sent to the Pacific Theater but wound up doing photo reconnaissance, mapping and nuclear testing work. Later, it was put into service fighting wildfires in the western part of the nation. The Commemorative Air Force acquired it about 30 years ago.

During a media flight earlier this week, folks could be seen filming the takeoff and landing from the end of the runway, and the sense of wonder was clear on their faces. A multi-million dollar Bombardier Challenger corporate jet waiting for takeoff stood by so its pilots could see the whole short trip take place in front of them.

Tours of the airplane are available through Sunday. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children, with a family of four getting aboard for $20. Flights are also available and range from $425 to $850, which is surely a lot of money but could well be worth the cost for anyone who has a special love for this kind of thing.

Proceeds from the flights and tours help support the upkeep of the B-17, which will head to Bristol, Tenn., following its stay at the Hampton Roads Executive Airport.

Visit azcaf.org for more information or to book a flight.