B-17 Bomber brings back old memories, creates new ones

Al Hiegel fought in WWII on the Pacific front. He worked as a radar operator on an aircraft carrier, but it wasn't until 2017 that he got his first ride on a B-17. (KATV Photo)

It's a sight to see and to hear, a B-17 Bomber firing up it's four engines. Al Hiegal remembers when this plane had it's heyday. He had just graduatued from high school in Conway and was heading into the War to End All Wars.

"It was 1944, right out of high school. I was 17-years-old, and I was 18 when I got into battle," said Hiegel.

He was stationed on the Pacific front and fought in Okinawa as kamikazi pilots targetted ships. Hiegel was stationed aboard an aircraft carrier.

"I figure I saw about 1,000 planes catapulted off that carrier," said Hiegel.

He was fascinated by the aircraft, but as a radar operator, both of his feet were on the ground. It wasn't until after the war that he got his pilot's license, and it wasn't until this week that he finally got a ride in a B-17.

"Oh, it was really great! One of the highlights of my life to ride in a B-17," said Hiegel.

Making Hiegel's dream come true was a pleasure for the flight crew.

"It's a great opportunity to be able to give that back to these veterans and let them experience it," said Crew Chief Bill Hooten,

Hiegel sat right behind the pilot, and the B-17 might as well have been a time machine.

"To hear all the noises, and I could hear the wheels going down and all the little cranks, and it just brought back a lot of memories," said Hiegel.

The flight also created some new memories for Hiegel - memories he'll never forget.

"I will for the rest of my life," said Hiegel.

Hiegel was one of two World War II veterans who got to take that ride for free.

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