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Lens on History: 'Flying Fortress' visit in 1941 was big

Flight from Spokane, Wash., to Rochester was a training flight

first B-17 2.jpg
Flying Fortress

Prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, military aircraft were seldom seen at the Rochester Airport.

That’s why the arrival of a “Flying Fortress” on Aug. 16, 1941, was such big news.

For Elgin native Lt. J.J. Preston, piloting the B-17 from Geiger Field at Spokane, Wash., to Rochester was part of a routine training flight and a chance to visit his father and sister.

After the story broke in the Post Bulletin, a steady stream of people visited the airport to see the huge plane with crowds estimated at 3,000. A dozen members of the VFW firing squad stood guard around the 74-foot long aircraft that had a wing span of nearly 104 feet.

Early the next morning, 2,000 spectators, some mothers in housecoats with children in their PJs, lined the fences and sat in cars to watch as the bomber lifted gracefully from the north-south runaway. Lt. Preston then circled the airport and made a low pass over the crowd.

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“Lens on History” is a weekly photo feature by Lee Hilgendorf, a volunteer at the History Center of Olmsted County.

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