WWII Flying Fortress comes home
Restored B-17 once flew for Aero Union out of Chico
Dino Corbin remembers getting a phone call, back in the mid-1980s, from the Chico Chamber of Commerce telling him about “somebody in Klamath Falls who wanted to talk to somebody about bringing some airplane to Chico.” A rather vague message, but Corbin felt compelled to follow up.
Corbin, who is general manager of Deer Creek Broadcasting, operator of five radio stations in Chico, was running KHSL-TV at the time. He was also—as he still is—a licensed private pilot and aviation photographer, and as such was deemed the go-to man to deal with airplane matters.
The “somebody” in Klamath Falls turned out to be members of the Confederate Air Force—renamed the Commemorative Air Force in 2002—a nonprofit outfit out of Texas devoted to restoring and preserving World War II combat aircraft from around the world, and touring them to air shows around the United States and Canada.
“Some airplane” was the “Sentimental Journey,” a gleaming, aluminum Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress built in 1944, which was being displayed at an air show in Klamath Falls, and is one of the stars of the upcoming Chico Air Show.
The Sentimental Journey originally served as a World War II air-sea rescue aircraft, as well as a “mothership,” as Corbin described it. It was used as an anti-aircraft gunnery training plane for the United States military from which target drones were remote-controlled.
Corbin ended up taking a camera crew up to Klamath Falls “to meet the airplane” and fly on it back to Chico, doing a news story about it in the process. The Sentimental Journey remained on display at the Chico Municipal Airport for several days, open for public tours.
“It’s a flying museum,” offered Corbin, sitting behind his desk at Deer Creek Broadcasting, surrounded by photographs of airplanes on all four walls. “It’s one of only about eight to 10 [fully restored B-17s] flying in the world today.”
Of the approximately 12,000 B-17s that were built, about one-third were shot down during World War II and one-third were lost in training accidents, said Corbin. Most of the remaining third that came home were scrapped for the recycled aluminum they offered.
It was while doing the Channel 12 story that Corbin learned that one of the Sentimental Journey’s incarnations since its war days had been as a firefighting plane for Chico’s Aero Union Corp.
He also got to know the crew very well—so well, in fact, that, “Literally, when the plane left Chico, I left with it. I ran away with the circus.”
With his wife’s permission, as he playfully noted, Corbin toured with the Sentimental Journey, in charge of public relations, for 10 days, during which the airplane made air-show stops in the Western and Southern United States.
“My job was, when the plane landed, to run over to the phone and make phone calls to the radio stations, TV and newspapers, to tell everybody to come out and share the experience,” said Corbin.
One of those calls was made to KBOI, a radio station in Boise, Idaho. The man Corbin spoke to at the station said he used to fly a B-17. As it turned out—amazingly—it was the exact same airplane, and he had flown it for three years in Chico for Aero Union.
“So he came out and visited the plane,” said Corbin, smiling.
Since that first air-show tour, Corbin has been out “many times, for one to two weeks at a time” on the Sentimental Journey, most often as flight engineer. He’s even flown the plane, which he described as “an exceptionally well-flying aircraft for its size. … That’s why it was such a great warbird.” The last time Corbin toured with the plane was in 1990, after his kids came along, but he hopes to get back to air-show touring in the not-too-distant future.
“I think it’s so cool that our air-show committee was able to bring it back,” said Corbin of the Sentimental Journey’s appearance at Chico Air Show 2009. “It’s considered one of the most original restorations to World War II configurations, with everything intact.
“It’s going to do some fly-bys—it will fly over low,” Corbin continued enthusiastically, “and then it will park, and people can tour it and climb through it.
“Probably one of the most rewarding aspects [of preserving these aircraft], besides keeping the aircraft flying, is helping people to understand what these 22- or 23-year-old men did in the war,” said Corbin. “I’ve seen war veterans come up to the aircraft and simply start crying.