Sentimental journey: An Airman's perspective on Heritage to Horizons

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Timothy Molnar
  • 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron commander
As a veteran attendee of more than 50 air shows, I can honestly say that our recent Luke Days was one of the best I've ever attended. Without a doubt, my favorite aircraft on display was the B-17G Flying Fortress. Sadly, only a handful of flyable B-17s remain from the 12,726 built by three manufacturers during World War II. "Sentimental Journey," as its nose art depicted, is one of these last remaining warbirds. Thousands of air show guests admired this symbol of Air Force heritage while it was parked on our ramp with the sun reflecting off its polished aluminum skin. 

During the 1940s this aircraft personified our Nation's commitment to the destruction of Germany's industrial web with manned bombers. Specifically, the B-17 few high altitude, daylight, precision bombing missions, supporting a doctrine crafted by the "Bomber Mafia," alumni of the Air Corps Tactical School of the 1930s. These aviators, Airmen such as Harold George, Kenneth Walker, Laurence Kuter, and Haywood Hansell used the B-17 as the basis for drafting the Air War Plans Division -- Plan 1, our war plan to defeat Germany through Airpower. 

As I peered into the Plexiglas nose of the B-17, checking out the bombardier's station, I wondered what it must have been like to fly as a crew member aboard this bomber. How did its 10-man crew work together as a team to get it over the target on time and deliver its bombs? No doubt, the odds were often against them. They had to fly through rough weather, battle Luftwaffe fighters,  flak and then use the highly-classified Norden bombsight to pickle or release bombs on targets. After a successful bombing run, it was time to return to base, but the crew wasn't out of trouble yet. They still had to evade enemy fighters, deal with mechanical issues, and care for wounded crew members before safely returning their Flying Fortresses back to airfields in the English countryside. War in the air with the B-17 was a bloody, arduous flght in which many gave their lives. 

Awakening me from my reverie of the air war in Europe was a flyby  of our Air Force's latest bomber, the B-2. The contrast between this war machine and the B-17 couldn't be starker. With low observable technology, 80 near-precision Joint Direct Attack munitions, and the use of time sensitive targeting, the B-2 provides our combatant commanders with unmatched Global Strike capability. Its crew of two pilots can now do as much damage to enemy  enters of gravity as could a raid with hundreds of B-17s as was typical in WWII. The patriotic air show crowd was dazzled by the B-2's sleek lines and its thunderous roar -- traits that  highlight its magnificent technology.  America has used technology to produce mechanical wonders such as the B-2, but it still requires long missions, testing the mettle of both man and machine to put bombs on target.
Seeing our hardware, both old and new, sent me down my own sentimental journey, reflecting on our technological advances, what Airpower has done for our Nation, and who we have become as a service -- the world's greatest Air and Space Force. We truly have a rich heritage with a boundless horizon. One thing is for sure, it will still take competent Airmen armed with technology, professional courage and selfless dedication to  execute our mission. 

America has counted on Airmen for the last 60 years and will continue to do so in the future. For me, the best part about Luke Days was taking pride in the fact that Heritage to Horizons is not only about those Airmen who came before us, but also about all of us currently serving, both here at Luke and around the world.  We should all be proud to serve in the world's greatest Air and Space Force, because we all helped create it.