Recently my family and I enjoyed touring a B-17 at the Greenville Downtown Airport and visiting the adjacent Military History Center of the Carolinas (MHCC). My dad, Ray Sheen, is an Air Force veteran so military planes always interest us. We enjoy studying the 1940s time period and several of us dressed up in 1940s attire for the occasion to honor our veterans.
The B-17 on display, “Aluminum Overcast,” was one of the last B-17s produced and never actually left the United States to see combat. Its current mission is important however – it provides hands-on history for thousands of spectators who want to know about World War II aircraft.
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was a World War II bomber used primarily in Europe. B-17s from the Eighth Air Force participated in countless missions from bases in England, often lasting for more than eight hours, and struck at targets deep within enemy territory. Because of their long-range capability, formations of B-17s often flew into battle with no fighter escort, relying on their own defensive capabilities to insure a successful mission.
The B-17 developed a reputation as an effective bomber, dropping more bombs than any other U.S. aircraft in World War II. Of the 1.5 million tons of bombs dropped on Nazi Germany and its occupied territories by U.S. aircraft, 640,000 tons were dropped from B-17s. In addition to its role as a bomber, the B-17 was also employed as a transport, antisubmarine aircraft, drone controller and search-and-rescue aircraft.
Flying B-17s could be quite dangerous. During the war, 12,732 of them were produced. Of that number, 4,735 – or roughly 1/3 - were lost during combat missions. Today, less than fifteen B-17s are flyable.
On the weekend of October 26-28, the MHCC is co-sponsoring a visit from the Wings Of Freedom Tour. A B-17, B-24, B-25 and P-51 will all be flying in to the downtown Greenville airport. Flights on these aircraft will be available for a fee, as well as tours. This is a great way to view World War II history hands on!
Our family also enjoyed exploring the newly opened Military Museum on Airport Road Extension. Displays and artifacts illustrate American warfare from the Revolutionary War to modern wars. The museum has a variety of military vehicles spanning a number of eras. My sister and I were given permission to have our photo taken in a 1943 Dodge WC56 Command and Reconnaissance car on loan from the family of Charles “Alan” Morehead. At the time of our visit there was a temporary display of a half track, which was the type of vehicle our grandfather, George Sheen, commanded in the Korean War. The museum is chock full of fascinating items and the volunteers are happy to discuss them with you.
The military museum is volunteer-run and funded primarily by private donations. It currently has no heating or air conditioning so donations towards that end are greatly appreciated. The MHCC Museum is open, weather and construction permitting, every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 pm. Before coming, please check the Facebook page to confirm the museum will be open. (Search “Military History Center of the Carolinas”)
The museum is located at 14 Airport Road Ext, Greenville, adjacent to the Greenville Downtown Airport’s Runway Park, within a block of the Swamp Rabbit Trail extension that is under construction. It is an ideal location to engage the community, honor veterans and provide easy access for school students and veterans in the Upstate to see history come to life. The building needs more work to transform it into a museum for students of all levels and for the public, so your support is appreciated. It will be a place where veterans can bring their families to teach them about the history that they experienced.