PRESCOTT - Perhaps the main reason why Jim Kimmel, one of 14 pilots in the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, treasures the B-17 bomber so much is because his father, Bob, flew in one 60 years ago in World War II.
The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) is displaying one of the gorgeous silver streamlined beasts, affectionately known as the "Sentimental Journey" Boeing B-17G "Flying Fortress," from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and again on Sunday at the Prescott Airport.
To take a tour of the authentic plane, adults pay $5 apiece. Children can hop on board for $3 each. An actual flight aboard "Sentimental Journey" is $425.
The B-17 is important because it was the first American bomber in World War II to arrive in England in July 1942 and bomb Germany's Axis forces across the English Channel later that summer.
Kimmel said the B-17's designers built the four-engine aircraft "like a steel-truss bridge" so the enemy would have a tougher time knocking it out of the sky.
"From a pilot's perspective, this plane is special because it was the first Army Air Force long-range heavy bomber that was produced to see combat at the outset of our involvement in World War II in Europe," Kimmel said. "It wasn't the fastest, it didn't carry the biggest bomb load and it wouldn't go the furthest, but the design is such that it was a very robust aircraft that bristled with .50-caliber machine guns."
Like his fellow CAF pilots, Kimmel maintains flight currency and fulfills all the requirements to fly the B-17.
To join his CAF unit, he had to agree to become a sponsor of the aircraft or become a squadron member. Kimmel also had to endure the scrutiny of CAF's Flight Evaluation Board selection process, which reviews each pilot's qualifications and commitment, among other things.
This weekend, CAF came to Prescott as part of its Arizona Tour, which travels to some of the smaller communities in the state for short weekend visits.
"We travel to 50 or 60 American cities in a typical summer. This is a business and nobody's paid," Kimmel said from the Prescott Airport late Friday afternoon. "The organization makes money so we can do what the Commemorative Air Force does - which is all about restoring, preserving, displaying and presenting vintage military airplanes in flyable condition to the citizens of this country so they can see them. This is our heritage."
Kimmel earned the right rating to join the CAF because he is available to fly and has a sufficient flying background in multi-engine and tail-wheel equipped aircraft.
"Typically, if you're a B-17 pilot, you only get the experience with the unit that owns and operates a B-17," Kimmel said. "There are only about eight organizations in the states that are operating B-17s, so if you're checked out in one, you're probably a member of that organization."
To visit the B-17 this weekend from Prescott, take Highway 89 to the McCurdy Drive and Willow Creek Road intersection and turn right on McCurdy. Then hang another right onto Clubhouse Drive and wind all the way around to the Mustang Café parking lot. The plane is parked next to the runway there.
For more information about the Commemorative Air Force and its museum based at Falcon Field in Mesa, call 480-924-1940 or visit its website at www.azcaf.org.