One of the most majestic military aircrafts that saw action during World War II was the B-17 Flying Fortress.

It was the largest, four-engine bomber that was able to soar above 35,000 feet in missions bombing missions, said former Parkite Jackson O. Wells.

"It was such a beautiful, sleek airplane," Wells said during a phone interview from his home in San Francisco, Calif. "The 'Flying Fortress' was a name that captured the attention of the press because it was so descriptive. Its fuselage was circular and it had large wings and a beautifully designed dorsal fin rudder."

The name also referred to the fact that the plane carried 6,000 pounds of bombs, 2,780 gallons of gasoline and featured 13 mounted 50-caliber machine guns, Wells said.

"It was an actual fortress," he said.

The public will get a chance to see an actual B-17G bomber up close from Monday, Sept. 17, through Thursday, Sept. 20, when the plane known as the "Sentimental Journey" makes a stop at the Heber City Airport.

The event is co-sponsored by the Utah Wing of the Commemorative Air Force and the Heber City Experimental Aircraft Association.

Additional sponsors include Heber City Days Market, Heber City UPS Store, Tracer Barricades Heber City, Mark Turner Farmers Insurance Agency, Inc., M Star Hotel Heber City, Homestead and Zermatt Resorts, Powell Potter and Poulsen Attorneys and Counselors at Law, Heber City, Tom Meecham and Eric Mickelson.

Admission to the exhibit is free, but people can have an on-board tour of the B-17 for $5.


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The public will also have an opportunity to take a ride in the plane for $425.

Wells, 91, a former First Lt. of the 306th Bomb Group, said these days the plane would be considered a medium-sized craft.

"It had a crew of 10, including the commissioned officers - two pilots, including a co-pilot, a navigator, and a bombardier," he said. "It also had a noncommissioned crew, which included the gunners and the engineers."

The B-17 was one of two heavy bombers.

"The other was the B-24 'Liberator,'" Wells said. "That one flew at a lower altitude."

The Flying Fortress was usually used for strategic bombings.

"That meant, the missions would be to areas like airplane manufacturing and ammunition plants and oil refineries that were chose in order to destroy the Germans' ability to conduct war," Wells explained. "That is opposed to the medium bombers' missions were tactical in nature and included airbases and other non-strategic areas."

Wells enlisted in the Army Air Corp in January 1942, a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

"After enlisting, I had to wait almost a year before I was called to active duty," he said. "

"During that time, the corps gathered trainers and instructors to teach us groundlings how to fly. Their mission was to make 100,000 pilots as fast as they could."

Wells arrived at his first assignment in England in early 1944.

"We were based in England, and there were 65 or more air bases in Great Britain that housed more than 100,000 of us," he said. "It was a maximum effort to drive the German Army back from the French Coastline, which was 20 miles away from Great Britain.

The Germans, who easily conquered all of Europe, including France, were stationed all along the coast.

"They could actually see the B-17s and other planes rendezvousing at our base," Wells said.

During his career in the Air Corp, Wells flew 28 missions, which included flights into Germany.

"The chances of a crew completing a tour was very low, so the most missions you flew was 25, but I flew three more than that," he said. "After I had flown six missions, I got my own crew. I was the airplane commander and was responsible for what the other nine people did in the air and on the ground."

The missions ranged between six- to eight-hours long, particularly when Wells and his men flew to Berlin.

"The missions to Berlin were massive, and we would fly in tight formations," he said. "One formation would have up to 36 airplanes that created a good bombing pattern."

Once the targets came into sight, Wells and his crew could see nothing, except mid-air explosions.

"The German anti-aircraft guns were powerful enough to knock down the bombers, even though we flew them so high," he said. "We could see the flack barrage with shells timed to explode at that altitude among the bombers. We could see bombers being taken out and being blown up by the flack. We could also see the parachutes of the survivors floating down. It was chaos."

When Wells and his crew weren't on missions to Germany, they were flying the B-17 south in the Baltic Sea.

"I do remember a mission we flew over the Baltic at a lower altitude," he said. "We were trying to knock out the submarine bases the Germans had out there."

Although Wells, who was a Parkite for 23 years, won't be in town for the "Sentimental Journey" stop, he did say his heart was in Park City and the surrounding areas.

"I have been away from Park City for three years," he said. "When I first got there, I was enamored with skiing. I taught and encouraged older people to ski in a program at Park City Mountain Resort called It's Never Too Late."

Wells, who also taught an extension course on World War II for the University of Utah, said the Commemorative Air Force Utah Wing Museum at the Heber Airport has some of his memorabilia.

"I never expected to have some of my stuff in a museum," he said. "I moved around a lot and gave some of my things to friends who put together their own museums and I gave the museum some things. I'm surprised some of my stuff, like my officers' dress hat, is still there, because people will take it out and take pictures of it.

"I miss it in Park City and wish I was there," he said.

The Heber City Airport will display the World War II B-17G Bomber from Sept. 17 through Sept. 20. Admission is free, but there are additional costs for plane tours and rides. For more information, or to schedule a ride, call (602) 448-9415.