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B-17 navigator flies again

The B-17 Flying Fortress prior to taking off from Spirit Airport in Chesterfield, Mo.

Boeing

The B-17 Flying Fortress prior to taking off from Spirit Airport in Chesterfield, Mo., bound for Boeing St. Louis.

Most people would not forget a ride on a B-17 Bomber, but it proved to be an entirely different kind of ride for a former navigator from World War II.

Don Nicholson was captured by the Germans and remained a prisoner of war until he was rescued by the Russians in 1945. So, when Shawn Knight with Boeing Flight Operations offered up his chance to ride on the Flying Fortress to the veteran, Nicholson jumped at the chance.

Sitting in his old navigator’s spot during the flight, Nicholson recalled memories he had not thought about in years.

Don Nicholson during his days as a B-17 navigator in World War II

Courtesy Don Nicholson

Don Nicholson during his days as a B-17 navigator in World War II

“Anti-aircraft explosions would make your plane jump. You could feel the concussion from the explosions that close. One time we had 70 holes in our plane coming back from a mission, and another time, we had a tire shot out. That made for a rough landing,” he said.

Nicholson’s wife of 67 years, Betty June, who was engaged to him while he was away at war, also had a chance to ride with her husband.

It was the kind of event Shawn Knight said he was thrilled to be part of.

“It was definitely a worthy cause,” Knight said. “In the short time I have come to know Don, he is phenomenal in the way he expresses his experience. He tells the story so well. And it’s a generation we are about to lose with all their knowledge and what we went through in World War II. It’s an honor just to give him a chance to ride in it again.”

The B-17 is leased by the Liberty Foundation, and was brought in for a Boeing internal event in St. Louis last week. According to the Foundation, only a dozen of these bombers that exist in the world today are capable of flight.