B–17 pilots past and present meet up, relive missions

Published 8:42 pm Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Wings of Freedom Nationwide Tour landed at the Shelby County Airport the weekend of November 8-9, 2009. The B-17 Flying Fortress, Consolidated B-24 Liberator, and P-51 Mustang vintage planes of World War II were on view to see.

On that Sunday afternoon under sunny skies, 1st Lt. (Retired US Air Force) George C. Instone sat in his wheel chair in front of the plane he flew in WWII, the B-17 Flying Fortress.

At 87, he is fragile in body, but strong in spirit and mind.

From Louisiana, he has been living in Hueytown with the family of Frank Mobley, recuperating from back surgery. Instone, a member of the “greatest generation,” shared his battle experiences with all who listened.

Instone was stationed in England and flew 35 missions over Germany without any loss to his nine man crew. The B-17 flew at 25,000 feet where the temperature was 55 degrees below zero. With no heat in the aircraft, the crew wore heated flight suits to survive. This discomfort was minor to the threat of enemy fighters who wanted to shoot them down.

Instone recalls his scariest moment when he ran short of fuel and his No. 4 engine was out. He landed his B-17 in Belgium for repair and refueling before flying back to his base in England. “I am a Christian, and I give God the credit for my life,” said Instone.

Capt. James F. Minor, retired pilot from Continental Airlines, is a volunteer with the Wings tour. A friend suggested that he come see the vintage aircraft after his retirement. He fell in love with the B-17, restored in 1986 by the Collings Foundation to its original wartime condition. Minor became one of the volunteer pilots of the B-17.

“Even though the German technology was better than ours, the U.S. had these long range, high altitude bombers,” said Minor.

The B-17 and B-24 flew together in thousands of wartime bombings and reconnaissance missions. “The B-17 and B-24 brought the German war machine to their knees,” said Minor. “I do this to bring awareness to the WWII generation that we owe such a debt to,” said Minor. “They literally saved the world.”

Minor met Instone for the first time, the current pilot and the WWII pilot of the Flying Fortress. The respect that Minor had for Instone was evident. Two pilots met in Shelby County, one who helped save the United States, and one who helps us remember their sacrifice.

Columnist Phoebe Donald Robinson can be reached by e–mail at phoeberobinson@bellsouth.net.