B-17 Bomber Lands in Rowan County for A Tribute to Veterans


November 4, a large crowd had gathered at Rowan Airport to witness the historic “Aluminum Overcast” fly over the airport. To the people who were on the ground, they noticed that one of the propellers on the plane was not spinning. Though alarmed, the flight crew reassured those on the ground that there was no danger. The pilot did, however, shut down the engine mid-flight when smoke was seen. The plan was able to land safely.

The media flight was scheduled for 1 p.m., with several WWII veterans taking part of the flight, was nearly cancelled because of the mechanical problems. Some of the veterans returned home with the hopes that the bomber plane would resume its flight.

Lt. Colonel Tom Cochran was one of the veterans who were in attendance. The Lt. Colonel flew 50 missions from North Africa to Italy. He began these trips in 1943 and continued for 160 days. Of all the flights Cochran manned, he had several close calls, but nary a lost crewman. Cochran said, “One of our crew of ten got sick and had to fly his last two missions with another plane. He didn’t make it home from one of them.”

Once Cochran completed the required number of flights, he requested to transfer to the United States to McDill Field located in Tampa, Florida. There he served as a captain and provided training for new B-17 bomber crews. He eventually trained men for the B-29 bombers, which were more modern than the B-17 bombers. He spent a total of 26 years in the reserves and was able to retire as a Lieutenant Colonel.

“Seeing this plane sure brings back a lot of memories,” Cochran told the Salisbury Post, “I hoped to get a ride today, but I understand about the engine. We sometimes had to fly on two engines in the war, but we didn’t want to.”

Tour coordinator, Dale Ensing, retells the early warning regarding the plan’s engine: “We developed an oil leak and shut down engine No. 4 when we saw smoke. It could be an oil line or valve, or it could be worse. We will find out later when the maintenance trailer gets here. The plane will fly out of here on four engines or we won’t fly.”

The plane underwent repairs on November 5th, with the hopes that it will be prepared for a 9 am media flight on Wednesday morning. Other flights were scheduled for later on Wednesday, with ground tours from 2-5 pm each day. All veterans and active duty military will be able to go through the ground tour for free.

“We are very fortunate to have this opportunity to share our facility with the community. It gives individuals of all ages a chance to experience history as well as hear stories from our local veterans. The airport staff is honored to be part of it,” said Rowan County Airport Manager Thad Howell.

The Aluminum Overcast B-17 bomber was built in Burbank, California. Ensing said: This plane was later sold for salvage value of $750. Originally, it did high-altitude survey and mapping, then later dumped fire ant control applied to corncobs. The EPA frowned on this practice, and a group of Tulsa, Oklahoma doctors bought the plane hoping to use it for a world-wide tour. Those doctors eventually gave the plane to the Experimental Aircraft Association, or EAA.”

The EAA Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin is where the plane is kept during the winter months, but it has been touring annually since 1994.

A tribute to Veterans will be a highlight for the plane. Tickets can be purchased for $15 and there will be a prime rib dinner and live music by the Salisbury Swing Band. Social hour begins at 6 p.m., with dinner served from 6:30 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to wear 1940s period dress and their military uniforms.

President Jack Neubacher of EAA Chapter 1083 said, “We want to show the veterans our appreciation. It has taken us 10 years to get this bomber back here, and planning has gone on for quite a while to make Tuesday evening a special night that our veterans will long remember.”

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE