At 90, Oregon veteran gets one more B-17 flight

By: Ryan Pfeil, The Associated Press
August 25, 2009

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — The last time Ralph Kesling flew in a B-17 Flying Fortress, he strapped on a parachute and jumped out 5.2 miles above the ground after two of the plane�’s engines failed during a firefight with German fighters.

Then he wound up as a prisoner of war for two years.

His flight Monday was more peaceful, a 15-minute ride over Klamath Falls aboard a restored B-17G called Sentimental Journey.

He joined members of the nonprofit Commemorative Air Force group who tour the country aboard the flying museum.

The Sentimental Journey will be on display at the Klamath Falls Airport through Thursday. Tours cost $5 for adults and flights are $425.

The tour gives passengers a taste of what a flight onboard one of the bombers was like, officials said.

The plane also is a memorial to honor World War II veterans.

"We feel that it�’s important for the younger generation to recognize the sacrifices that not only the crew went through in the face of war, but also the people that supported that whole effort," said Dave Baker, a Commemorative Air Force volunteer. "There were people who couldn�’t actually step into the fight actually building these aircraft, in some instances 15 and 25 aircraft a day in any one factory."

Kesling, now 90, witnessed the capabilities of a B-17 firsthand in June 1943 during a bombing mission over Huls, Germany.

He sat in a small, bubble-shaped gun turret on the underside of a B-17 Flying Fortress 5.2 miles over the ground, looking at the German countryside while black explosions from 88-millimeter shells fired below burst around his plane.

Messerschmidt 110 and Focke-Wulf 190 German fighter planes screamed past at 400 miles an hour, and he swiveled in the ball turret, trying to take them down. A piece of flak sliced through the Plexiglas covering. Wind and broken Plexiglas howled through the opening, peppering his face.

"Of course I had goggles on, so I didn�’t get blinded by it," Kesling said.

After the No. 1 and No. 4 engines caught fire, Kesling abandoned his turret, strapped on his parachute and jumped from the falling plane.

He enjoyed his flight 66 years later, even if it was hot and bouncy. He preferred it to being shot down.

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