'Lady' and gentleman: Former AFRC commander visits Andrews

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Amaani Lyle
  • 459th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs Office
A former commander of Headquarters Air Force Reserve touched down here aboard a piece of history Oct. 12 to participate in the dedication of one of America's newest memorials.
Retired Maj. Gen. Richard Bodycombe said he and his crew endured a "very chilly" trip aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress from Detroit, Mich., to conduct a flyover above the Air Force Memorial Dedication weekend Oct. 14 and 15.
As an active duty fighter pilot commissioned in May 1944, General Bodycombe trained on B-24s at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., and later reported to the 782nd Bombardment Squadron as part of the 15th Air Force in Italy. By January 1949, he was assigned to Wiesbaden Air Base, Germany, to participate in the Berlin airlift.
A command pilot with more than 16,500 flying hours, the general said he also paid a visit here more than 20 years since his retirement from the Air Force Reserve, to meet the new generation of 459th ARW members.
"It's really an honor to meet a war hero who actually flew here on such a historic aircraft," said Col. Stayce D. Harris, 459th Air Refueling Wing commander.
Dubbed the Yankee Lady by its pilots and crew, the meticulously restored Boeing B-17 heavy bomber missed its chance to fight in World War II by a matter of only months.
"This was one of the last B-17s to be built after it came off the line in April 1945," said Dale Worcestor, Air Show Crew assignments manager. "Of course, the war was over shortly after that, so this particular plane was instead used by the U.S. Coast Guard and later by firefighters as a water bomber."
The U.S. Coast Guard deleted the armament on the plane, once capable of carrying more than 6,000 pounds of ordnance, to install a lifeboat in it, and firefighters later added water tanks to help them fight forest blazes, said Yankee Air Museum docent Roy DuHadnay.
"By the time we got the plane, it was just about stripped," Mr. DuHadnay said. "It was more than nine years before it was ready to fly again."
General Bodycombe agrees that acquiring and restoring the plane was no small feat. With the help of years of donations to the Yankee Air Museum in Belleville, Mich., where the Yankee Lady is kept, he and the rest of the crew collected some $250,000 to purchase the plane and fashion it much like it was in its heyday, he said.
"We've replaced a dozen 50-calibur machine guns, restored the bomb bay and made it look like the bomber it once was," the general said.
Of the more than 12,000 Flying Fortresses built before the war's end, less than a dozen of America's first heavy bombers are still flying today.
General Bodycombe could handily cite a veritable archive of the plane's colorful history - from its appearance in the 1970 film "Tora! Tora! Tora!" about the attack on Pearl Harbor, to its brush with disaster following the 2004 fire in Ypsilanti, Mich., that burnt the original Yankee Air Museum to the ground. The plane was spared, but the museum's library and many of the historical artifacts were lost.
"This plane has seen a lot," said General Bodycombe. "I probably know more about this plane than any other I've flown."
The Yankee Air Museum flies the Yankee Lady for air shows and offers private flights for a fee. For more information, visit www.yankeeairmuseum.com or call 734-483-4030.