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Ex B-17 crewman relives experience
A vintage B-17 bomber that saw World War II action in Europe arrived at the Modesto Airport Monday morning. As the "Aluminum Overcast" touched down, former Prisoner of War Allen Sughrue of Hughson remembered what it was like to fly in one.

He prepared others for Monday afternoon's media flight saying they were in store for "a lot of shake, rattle and roll."

He was right on the mark. The craft's four prop engines fired up, vibrating the craft like in the old Hollywood movies. It flew west of Ceres, over the center of Modesto, towards Hughson and back to the airport. The landing was smooth as glass.

Sughrue was just 20 when he was a flight engineer aboard a similar plane.

"A flight engineer was basically a flying mechanic with a gun," said Sughrue, a Riverbank native now living at Samaritan Village in Hughson.

"It was a great airplane in its day. It could take a beating."

On one mission Sughrue remembers his plane taking flack through the wing. It ripped a hole in the gas tank "and scared us all to death. We didn't blow up though."

On a fateful mission, Sughrue and his crew had to bail over Hungary. He spent 10 months as a prisoner of the Nazi Germany Army. He was taken on a number of marches, one lasting 89 days. He weighed 108 pounds when he was freed.

"I turned 21 in a Germany camp. But I had a lot of company."

The Aluminum Overcast flew in from Van Nuys to be in Modesto until today as part of a 60-stop Salute to Veterans fundraiser. The historic aircraft is owned and operated by the Experimental Aircraft Association, headquartered in Oshkosh, Wisc. The EAA Chapter 90 based in Oakdale is coordinating ground tours and flights until about 4 p.m. Tours are $6 per adults, $5 for students and $10 for families. Veterans can see the plane at no charge. The airplane's crew is available at each tour stop to answer questions.

Flights on the historic aircraft are booked by calling (920) 371-2246. Flights take place every 45 minutes beginning at 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. A minimum of six people is required per flight. The cost for EAA members is $385 and $425 (includes a free one-year EAA membership) for non-members.

The B17G is parked on the north side of the Modesto Airport, east of SkyTrek Aviation on Airport Way. Aluminum Overcast is scheduled to depart for Hayward at approximately 10 a.m. on Thursday. It is scheduled to be in Sacramento May 9-11.

The plane is one of 14 B-17 bombers still flying today. Between 1934 and 1945, more than 12,000 B17s were produced, with 4,735 lost during World War II. The B17 was part of the Allied Forces strategic bombing effort in Europe.

"Aluminum Overcast" is painted in the colors of the 398th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force, based in England and France during World War II.

Manufactured on May 18, 1945, this B-17G was the last model off of an aircraft production line that operated for 10 years. This aircraft requires a crew of 10, was outfitted with ten 50-caliber machine guns, had a 103 foot wide wing span and was 74 feet long. The B-17 had a service ceiling of 35,600 feet, four Wright Cyclone radial engines providing a maximum speed of 300 mph, and a cruising speed of 170 mph. This aircraft was capable of flying 1,850 miles and carried 1,700 gallons of fuel.