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Posted: 4/22/2007 10:52:00 PM EDT

April 20, 2007

In the army-green cockpit, surrounded by a maze of gauges and dials and levers, in a cacaphony of noise like a locomotive caught in a tornado, John Brinser smiled.

It was 1944 again, with Jack One and Jack Two in the cockpit, flying the bombing runs out of Italy over Germany. The last time "Jack" Brinser was in a B-17 on a mission, he was in a plane named "Annie" on Nov. 13, 1944. Both the pilot -- Brinser -- and the co pilot were named "Jack." They became Jack One and Jack Two.

And on that day in November, 62 years ago, "Annie" was shot out of the sky.

This week, the Greeley man was there again, in a B-17, smiling. The plane is called The Liberty Belle, a rebuilt B-17 WWII bomber, which flies around the country now, offering rides and memories. Today and Sunday the plane is at Jeffco Airport in the Denver area.

The B-17 was known as the "Flying Fortress" during the war because it carried 6,000 pounds of bombs and had 13 50-caliber machine guns in turrets throughout the plane.

They made almost 13,000 B-17s during the war. Fourteen are left.

The chief pilot of the Liberty Belle is Ray Fowler, who flew the plane out of Arizona this week for the show in Denver. Before he allowed people on the plane, Fowler told the crowd. "From this plane, you'll see what our heroes saw." When he said "heroes," he nodded toward John Brinser.

On his 13th mission, on Friday the 13th, 1944, 19-year-old Jack Brinser was piloting the "Annie" when the first burst of flak hit the plane. It took out one engine. Within the next few minutes, two more engines were taken out by the flak over Germany, and Jack One (Brinser) and Jack Two, his co-pilot, were working hard to keep the plane flying.

They flew 200 miles with one engine so they could drop their bomb load over Germany, then turned back.

They had to bail out over Czechoslovakia. Brinser, as the pilot, was the last one out, at 1,000 feet over the mountainous country.

For 30 days, the crew kept together, hidden by the Slovak partisans, until they felt it was safer to climb the mountains and try to get to Russia.

They were intercepted by Germans, questioned by the Gestapo, and held for seven months in Stalag Luft 1 prisoner-of-war camp.

When the camp was liberated by Russians in 1945, the Americans flew the 9,000 prisoners out of Germany, 23 at a time, on the B-17s.

"I flew about 30 different kinds of planes while I was in the Air Force," Brinser said. "The B-17 was my favorite."

They gave Brinser the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and the Purple Heart from the shrapnel in his leg. He still carries that shrapnel on his keychain.

Jack One stayed in the Air Force, flew fighter jets in Korea and retired as a lieutenant colonel. Jack Two passed away eight years ago.

Brinser's 82 now, and he and his wife Lorna have lived in Greeley for 22 years.

And this week, with the plane in flight, Brinser crawled down under the cockpit of the Liberty Belle, amid the noise and the shakes and the rattles of the old plane, and he leaned out over the clear plastic shield of the gun turret, a thousand feet up, staring down, at the ground rushing past.

And Jack One smiled.
Link Posted: 4/22/2007 11:34:16 PM EDT
Link Posted: 4/23/2007 3:00:37 AM EDT


What he said.  
Link Posted: 4/23/2007 3:36:33 AM EDT
Flying a shot up B-17 on ONE engine with a bombload for 200 miles?
Link Posted: 4/23/2007 3:44:29 AM EDT

Flying a shot up B-17 on ONE engine with a bombload for 200 miles?

What's so hard to figure out?

More miles of hell behind you than foward to allied territory with your target in-between?
Link Posted: 4/23/2007 3:47:05 AM EDT

Flying a shot up B-17 on ONE engine with a bombload for 200 miles?

Yeah, that takes balls.
I bet he can hardly walk, with balls that big.

May he fly many more miles.
Link Posted: 4/23/2007 3:52:53 AM EDT


Flying a shot up B-17 on ONE engine with a bombload for 200 miles?

What's so hard to figure out?

More miles of hell behind you than foward to allied territory with your target in-between?

I had neighbors growing up who worked in or flew on B-17s and said that if two engines went, the plane essentially became a flat rock with wings. Your only hope was to belly land it as it began to lose altitude (which it did, in short order) or bail out. You had no choice. Three engines out and you're done.

The plane weighed 65000 lbs. It needed all 4 engines to fly. The planes also, acc. to my neighbor, the waist gunner on one of these jobs, never flew faster than 160 MPH in combat- they just didn't go any faster. The oft-touted 300 MPH max speed is very optimistic at best. So- with three engines out, how could the guy have kept up in formation? Had he not been in formation, the Nazis would have picked him off by flak or fighters.

I think the reporter must have misheard the old gent.
Link Posted: 4/23/2007 4:00:09 AM EDT
Lets not nitpick. The plane lost an engine. Then lost two more as they continued on. It says nothing about staying in formation or how the plane flew.  Nevertheless the crew continued their mission, completed their duty, tried to return home, bailed out and spent time as POW. In my book that's enough of a trial for anyone to endure.  It took courage to just get into the plane, fly the mission and survive as they did.  Too bad his co-pilot didn't get the chance to relive old times.

Link Posted: 4/23/2007 4:07:48 AM EDT
I don't think a B-17 with a bomb load could stay in the air on one engine, either. Perhaps they lost the engines over or after their target. But despite the error, cool that the old dude got to relive his glory days.

Maybe if the price of gas goes waaay down, somebody will give me a ride in an F-4 when I'm 80.  
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