By Thomas Sellers Jr.
There was a time their relationship was strictly business.
Garrett Williamson would join forces with the Raiden Maiden 70 years ago to fly over the skies of Italy and Western Europe.
Under a calm Millington sky on May 30, 2019, the now 99-year-old Williamson was excited to reunite with one of the loves of his life. The World War II veteran was a part of the kickoff for the Join the Flight hosted by the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 182 and Millington-Memphis Airport.
“It feels great to be here today,” Williamson said. “I love the B-17. I was on B-17s and B-24s. I chose to get on this one. I was fortunate enough to be able to choose.
“I flew 29 missions in one just like this,” he added. “I am here today. The rest of the guys who flew on the B-24s are not here. And that’s very sad.”
Williamson was a guest of organizers giving him a chance to fly in a B-17 once again. Williamson joined media from the Memphis area in flight over Millington and Memphis.
The veteran saw the Pyramid in Downtown Memphis and the almost complete Millington Performing Arts Center in less than 5 minutes.
The EAA brought the classic bomber to Millington for a three-day event of tours and flights.
“We make these tours available to everybody to have a chance to ride a World War II airplane,” 182 Chapter President Gerhard Schubert said. “The airplanes made victory possible for us. Our organization has more than 900 chapters worldwide. We are all aviation enthusiasts who restore and rebuild airplanes like this or smaller.”
The EAA Chapter 182 of Memphis hosted the B-17 “Aluminum Overcast” tour at the Millington-Memphis Airport May 31-June 2. The sister plane of the Memphis Belle provided the experience of tours and flights for several guests.
The EAA’s mission is to grow participation in aviation through flying, building, restoring and volunteer outreach, sharing “The Spirit of Aviation” and encouraging all who wish to participate.
“This one was restored by experts to fly passengers and everything,” Schubert said. “You will get the history. We are so honored to have Mr. Williamson here today. He has flown 29 missions on the airplane. This is pretty amazing for him.”
Before the engines were started on the Aluminum Overcast, Williamson’s smile started to glow. Coming onto the runway of the Millington-Memphis Airport using a walker, minutes later Williamson was buzzing around the plane without any assistance.
He shared stories of combat and expressed how grateful he was to be in Millington telling the tales of survival.
“It brings back lots of memories,” Williamson said. “It’s just a part of me. Whenever a B-17 is in town, I am there.
“It brings you back mainly,” he added. “It can take a tremendous amount of damage and bring you back. It has a durable engine, heavy wings and it flew well. I know a lot of people are into Ford and Chevrolet. I am a B-17 man myself. I just love the 17 because I am here mainly.”
Once in the air, Williamson almost appeared to be that 18-year-old kid who signed up to fight for his country and the world. He looked over the Mississippi River, Downtown Memphis and the developing Millington with glee.
“I love the EAA because they do this,” he concluded. “If it wasn’t for them, you would never see one of these. Here I am today. I am 99 and I’ll be 100 next year. And I am flying. This plane is probably 75 years old.”