By Air, By Sea

As part of Rob’s 70th birthday celebration this year (February 12th which was also President Lincoln’s birthday), he flew in a B-17, a living history museum dedicated to the “Nine-O-Nine” that completed 140 missions during World War II with neither a flight abort nor loss of a crewman. The original “Nine-O-Nine” B-17 had 21 engine changes along with multiple wing panel and fuel tank changes. After the war, she was flown back to the U.S. with patches from over 600 bullet holes. Unfortunately, the old war bird succumbed to the scrap yard.

The Collings Foundation offers walk-through exhibits to the public of several WWII-vintage planes including a B-17 that Rob flew in. She was manufactured too late for war combat but instead was placed in air/sea rescue and military air transport service. Later, she was sold as a scrape pile but the new owners restored her for use in fighting wild fires. In the 1980’s, she was sold to the Collings Foundation and restored to her wartime configuration.

Our walk-through tour of the B-17 before Rob’s flight was poignant. Our sister-in-law, Kim, who joined us on the tour, lost her father, Joe, last year. At age 17, he was a gunner on a similar B-17 during WWII. We are amazed at the small hatch that he used to crawl into the glass-exposed ball turret. We thought about Joe’s bravery and patriotism as a young man, to overcome feelings of isolation and fear of being a lone target during war hostilities. He definitely qualifies as being the honorary part of the Greatest Generation.

Rob told me that there are no flaps on the wings of the B-17 to slow the speed for a soft landing like today’s aircraft. At the end of his in-flight tour, he personally experienced a low elevation approach to the runway at the Naples Municipal Airport with a “controlled crash” landing by the skilled pilot crew. Over 1,000 tour stops ago, an actual crash landing occurred with the same plane in Beaver Falls, PA. Both the crew and tour riders survived but it was a catastrophic crash for the plane when she rolled off the runway, went through a chain-linked fence, sheared off a power pole and then roared down a ravine to a thundering stop, with missing landing gear, smashed nose, ball and chin turrets, and shattered wing and engine coverings. With the passionate persistence of its volunteers, she fortunately was restored again by the Collings Foundation and she continues on tour within the U.S. as one of the main honorary exhibits for the Foundation.

Later the same week after his flight tour, Rob was surprised by his three sisters and four more family members on a cruise. We had a delightful time with lots of good memories and laughs together. My brother has some of our capers on video including the “Elevator Girls” who entertained the shouting disco dance crowd below. Fortunately, he did not capture on video others including one sister being caught by a sniffer dog smuggling an orange at the Mexican border, another sister tossing her passport down the stairwell since she did not want to go home yet, and his own wife losing her clothes at a beach bar. What happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico!

Thank you to Scott, Deb S., Deb H., Susan, Danielle, John, Audrey, Bob, Mimi, Sue, Rafal, Tim, Amanda, Lisa and others who wished Rob a happy birthday!

Photos: Top Photo is Rob Gourley standing by the B-17. Second Photo Above is Rob and Dana Gourley at the Wings of Freedom, Collings Foundation, exhibited at Naples Municipal Airport, Naples, FL. in February 2018. Photo Below of Rob and his sisters (l to r) Heidi, Rebecca and Amy (plus in the background to the left, the “famous” glass elevator during the 70’s disco party).