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Ye Olde Pub

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | June 23, 2022 1:20 AM

MOSES LAKE — There’s a rather famous story behind the name painted on the side of the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, “Ye Olde Pub,” that sat on a runway at Grant County International Airport for the Moses Lake Airshow on Saturday.

“The crew of the airplane, they were on a bombing run over Germany,” said Shawn Mulligan, a professional pilot who flies the elderly bomber in his spare time for air shows. “The aircraft was so badly damaged from anti-aircraft fire, and I think some fighters were after it at one point. They ended up struggling to return to England.”

They likely would not have made it, Mulligan explained, had it not been for Franz Stigler, one of Germany’s most acclaimed World War II fighter aces, who saw the condition of the crew of the original Ye Olde Pub, noticed no one was manning the guns, and decided to show some compassion and mercy in the midst of war.

“So he pulled up alongside them and essentially ended up leading them to safety back over the German lines,” Mulligan explained. “He made sure they were escorted so that any anti-aircraft guns wouldn’t shoot at them because people on the ground would see there was a Messerschmitt escorting them.”

It’s a story told in the 2014 book “A Higher Call: An Inspirational True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II” by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander and noted on the website of Erikson Aircraft Collection, the owner of the B-17. Both Stigler and B-17 pilot Charlie Brown survived the war, but didn’t finally meet in person until the early 1990s, Mulligan said.

“I think the B-17 pilot was looking for the German pilot to see if the guy was still around, and they discovered each other and ended up getting together to talk about what transpired,” he said. “It’s a fascinating story.”

Mulligan noted, however, that the original B-17 dubbed Ye Olde Pub isn’t this B-17 that sits on the runway behind him, which was built in 1944, never left the United States, and never dropped a bomb in anger. It was named “Ye Olde Pub” to honor not only that crew, but all who flew in World War II, Mulligan said, and is one of a handful of antique aircraft — along with a B-25 bomber, a P-51 Mustang fighter, and a U.S. Navy SPD Dauntless bomber — Erikson brought this year to display at Moses Lake Airshow.

Started by private airplane collector Jack Erikson in 1983, the Erikson Aircraft Collection is based in Madras, Oregon and owns a number of older warbirds, including American, Japanese and German warplanes from the 1940s and even a Cold War-era Czechoslovak-made jet trainer produced in the 1960s. Volunteer pilots like Mulligan fly these aircraft to air shows across the country as a way to celebrate the history of aviation and help spark interest in people who might be interested in flying planes, building or fixing planes.

“I have been interested in aviation since I was very young,” said Kaitlan Comm, a pilot and volunteer with Erikson who spent the airshow standing under the of an old B-25 bomber teaching morse code. “It started in eighth grade, I had my first trip in an airplane. And from that point on, I was like, I’m going to do this.”

Comm is part of Erikson’s display on the WASPS, the Women Airforce Service Pilots who served as flight instructors and pilots ferrying aircraft around the country and from the U.S. to scattered World War II combat zones.

“They were an amazing bunch of women that kind of spearheaded in showing that we can fly these large aircraft and do it well,” said Lorraine Martinelli, a pilot who is in charge of the WASPS education group for Erikson. “I have actually flown it. I am not yet rated in it, but I have been fortunate to fly it.”

Erikson even offered rides in both the B-17 and a small World War II-era Navy scout plane, the SBD Dauntless during the two-day air show.

“It flies like a tank,” Mulligan said. “It’s really, really heavy on the controls and doesn’t respond quickly. It’s very stable at the same time, too, and it’s meant to cruise at high altitudes for long periods of time. It’s a joy to fly.”

It also takes a lot of maintenance to keep a nearly 80-year-old plane running, Mulligan said, and once they fly back to Oregon, Ye Olde Pub will likely spend many days being checked to ensure everything still runs.

As it stands, after it taxis to a halt after a flight, the aircraft smells of burning oil and hydraulic fluid, something no amount of maintenance is ever going to fix, Mulligan said.

“The tolerances weren’t as strict then as they are now,” he said.

That, however, did not stop the passengers from enjoying the roughly 20-minute flight above the Columbia Basin in an old warbird.

“It’s been a dream forever,” said Moses Lake resident Shadd Forester as he stood beneath the wing. “It was amazing. I teared up a bit on takeoff. My great-grandpa was a turret gunner in one of these, and I grew up watching ‘Memphis Belle.’”

Forrester said the ride was a little bumpy, however.

“You need to maintain three points of contact at all times,” he said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

A ground crew member stabilizes the propellers of the Erikson Aircraft Collection’s B-17 Flying Fortress following a short flight during the Moses Lake Airshow on Saturday. Erikson offered rides in the plane to paying passengers.

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CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Shawn Mulligan inside the B-17 Flying Fortress “Ye Olde Pub” shows just how cramped the quarters on the plane actually are. A typical B-17 flew a combat mission with a crew of 8-10, Mulligan said — a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, and several gunners.

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CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

A view of the cockpit of the B-17 Flying Fortress “Ye Olde Pub” through the bomb bay. Pilot Shawn Mulligan said crews would often spend 10 hours flying combat missions in the plane, frequently at high altitude without cabin pressurization or heat, and were required to wear oxygen masks and even heated suits.

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