Last week my friend (and Fata Morgana co-author) Ken Mitchroney mentioned that his wife, Beth, the Last of the Old School Reporters, would be taking a media flight on a visiting B-17G bomber, the Aluminum Overcast. There are literally only 12 of these still flying, and opportunities to go gallivanting in one aren’t hugely common. Especially for free, and especially for writers who have a novel about one coming out in three months.
So I was totally joking, only I wasn’t, but I was, really (not), when I said, “Well, heck, Beth’s gonna need a photographer, then, won’t she?”
“I’ll call you back,” Ken said.
An hour and a couple of email exchanges later: “Okay, you’re in. You’ll be taking shots for Beth’s story.”
Next day I tightened my vintage military seatbelt and felt the runway drop away as the Aluminum Overcast took to the air and flew along the Carquinez Strait — where I live. I shot pix like a madman and headed straight for the bombardier station in the nose. A camera operator from Channel 2 news took this shot with my phone. My house isn’t in the background — but it’s close.
The weirdest thing about my bomber flight was how familiar it felt.
I have been living, breathing, eating, and dreaming B-17F bombers and World War II for four friggin years. History books, self-published crew accounts, pilot & belly gunner manuals; period documentaries, newsreels, and movies; photographs; talks with vets; endless talks and notes and sketches with Ken — everything I could do to make you feel as if you really are on board the B-17F Flying Fortress Fata Morgana along with ten brave scared wisecracking guys for their epic little mission into the unknown.
So even as my heart was pounding and I was thinking omigodthisisthecoolestthing ever, part of the thrill I felt was a sense of vindication. Holy shit, I got it right.
Well, there was one thing.
Those bombers were as analog as it gets. The control cables for the rudder and ailerons run along the fuselage, right by your head. When the bomber hits turbulence, your reflex is to grab the wires to hold yourself steady. Don’t do that. The pilot needs those for things like turning and going higher and lower.
I wish I’d known about that reflex when the book was being written. It’s just one of those you-are-there details.
This adventure also marked my first-ever newspaper photo credit. Thank you, Ken! Thank you, Beth! Thank you, Experimental Aircraft Association and crew of the Aluminum Overcast!