Museum opens Bomb Gunner Exhibit for media day

  • Published
  • By Angela Woolen
  • Robins Public Affairs
Hanging below an aircraft traveling over enemy territory was hardly a job for the faint of heart. But, inside a B-17 ball turret, with legs at a 90-degree angle - sometimes for six to seven hours - is exactly where gunners spent the entire ride.

During a media day at the Museum of Aviation, the restoration team for the B-17 let local media members get a taste of how small the space really was.

The turret was one of the first pieces of the plane to arrive at the museum, boxed up in a crate.

On a B-17, the turret is mounted below the belly of the aircraft. It looks like a human-sized hamster ball. Once inside it feels like one too.

The gunners were usually 5-feet, 6-inches or shorter, the shortest members of the B-17 crew, said Bill Paul, museum collections manager.

The B-17 was used primarily as a bomber during World War II. This particular one was given to the museum here and arrived last August.

"When it first came in, it was rough," said Bob Denison, project manager of the B-17 restoration.

The museum has spent about $1,800 - not counting labor and paint - to make it look nearly new, he said.

The gunner's job was to man the machine guns which were mounted to the ball gun turret. There was an oxygen mask and a tube to blow heated air into the compartment.

"If you were claustrophobic, you definitely didn't want to be there," said Denison.

Basically in a fetal-like position, the gunner controlled two .50-caliber machine guns.

During bombing runs from England, the gunner would get into the turret over the English Channel and would stay there until the aircraft returned over the water.

"Of course at 30,000-feet, it got to 60 below [0 degrees], and they had a heated seat as long as they had electricity," Denison said.

Because of its position on the aircraft, the gunner position had the lowest casualty rate on the B-17, Paul said.

The museum decided to show off the work on the turret to let the community know the restoration staff is making progress on the B-17 project, which will continue for a few more years.