WWII vet recalls flights in vintage plane that crashed in Connecticut

Vincent J. Purple exits the Collings Foundation's B-17G Flying Fortress after landing at the Worcester Regional Airport during the Wings of Freedom Tour in September 2013. Purple flew B-17s during WWII.


By CYRUS MOULTON | Telegram & Gazette | Published: October 2, 2019

PETERSHAM, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — A World War II B-17 pilot described a Wednesday crash involving one of the vintage bombers as a shock.

"There's no way to express it other than we lost a big friend," said Vincent "Bill" Purple, who said he had flown on the plane which crashed many times. "It's like part of my family."

A B-17 bomber owned by the Collings Foundation of Stow crashed shortly after takeoff Wednesday morning from Bradley International Airport in Connecticut.

Officials said the aircraft was five minutes into the flight when it reported it had a problem and was not gaining altitude. The plane was attempting to land when it struck a maintenance shed at the airport. The plane was carrying 13 people,  and officials said there were multiple fatalities.

The plane — known as 909 — was a fixture of the Collings Foundation's Wings of Freedom Tour, which brought vintage aircraft to airports across the country.

It was during these events that Purple, 95, came in contact with 909, flying once from Manchester, N.H., to Worcester on the bomber.

But it was certainly not the first B-17 with which Purple was acquainted.

Purple flew 35 missions on B-17s from mid-1944 to April 1945 as a member of the 8th Air Force, 397th Bomb Group, based in Kimbolton, England.

"I think the B-17 was the most marvelous aircraft, to fly the B-17 was just top notch," Purple said. "I did many things with it many times."

And that included crashing. Purple recalled crashing four aircraft during his tour of service, when he and his crew routinely came under attack from 88 millimeter German flack guns.

"It scares the daylights out of you, but you're so busy with crash procedure ... you just pay attention so you can walk away," Purple said. "It was scary but what can you do?"

After the war, Purple continued flying the B-17, ferrying troops home as well as delivering planes to be scrapped. The B-17 which crashed was one of only nine of the aircraft in flying condition in the United States, Hunter Chaney, marketing director for the Collings Foundation, told the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle last month. Purple said that there were originally 12,731 B-17s made for the war effort.

And despite the crash on Wednesday, Purple said he still trusts the B-17 Flying Fortress.

"If I had to get in an airplane, I'd get in that one," Purple said. "It's a fine aircraft; it does its stuff."

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