Niagara Gazette — For Richard Notebaert, the memories are still fresh in his mind – even after 70 years.
The Clarence resident piloted a B-17 bomber for the United States Army Air Force during World War II, surviving 50 missions out of North Africa.
The 93-year-old recently had a chance to visit an old friend when the Liberty Foundation’s 2013 Salute to Veterans Tour brought a B-17 Flying Fortress modeled after the Memphis Belle to town.
“It was just a wonderful airplane,” Notebaert said before his flight last week at Prior Aviation in Cheektowaga. “It flew beautifully and it was so easy to fly. It was a very forgiving airplane, and it always brought me back alive.”
Upon takeoff, Notebaert said that some things were different – like the absence of the jolt of adrenaline that always preceded combat. But much about the Boeing plane remains the same.
The trademark drone of the four powerful engines is unmistakable, echoing a dozen baritone lawnmowers. The smell that permeates the air is not the jet fuel that is so common today – but rather, high octane diesel.
The interior of the craft is not pressurized, instead sporting wide open windows for gunners that results in a wind tunnel of suction. The planes typically flew high enough to make it mighty cold inside – bomber jackets are heavy for a reason – although this flight never became uncomfortable.
Of course, the biggest difference was that no one was shooting at him this time.
“We used to come home all the time with a lot of flak holes,” he said. “On one of our missions, three of our gunners were awarded Purple Hearts.”
From May to November in 1943, Notebaert was stationed near Marrakesh – where, he said, the food was awful.
As a member of the 99th Heavy Bombardment Squadron of the 15th Air Force, he flew his missions that totaled 314 hours – mostly over Italy.