Celebrating 80 years for Boeing's B-17 and a proud "company" man

Celebrating 80 years for Boeing's B-17 and a proud "company" man
80 years ago, Boeing gambled the company's future on the design of a new four engine heavy bomber. In one year, this bomber went from "design board" to first flight, and Boeing paid for it out of its own pocket. It paid off BIG when the US Army decided to buy the B-17. In all, Boeing sold more than 12 thousand to the U-S, but eight decades later - there are only about 12 of them that remain in flying condition. (KOMO Photo: Larry Rice)

A rare piece of aviation history - a Boeing B-17 flew in for a visit to Seattle's Museum of Flight, this weekend as part of a nationwide “Wings of Freedom Tour” sponsored by the non-profit Collings Foundation in Massachusetts.

I was offered the privilege of taking a "media" ride onboard this vintage plane, and being an aviation history buff, I was thrilled at the chance to fly in this rare plane.  But my excitement could not come close to matching that of a man I met for the first time ever - a man also on this flight, who's been around since the birth of this World War 2 workhorse.

First some background on the plane itself. 80 years ago, Boeing gambled the company's future on the design of a new four engine heavy bomber.  In one year, this bomber went from "design board" to first flight, and Boeing paid for it out of its own pocket.  It paid off BIG when the US Army decided to buy the B-17. In all, Boeing sold more than 12 thousand to the U-S, but eight decades later - there are only about 12 of them that remain in flying condition.

For me this was a fun ride, but for a man on that flight with me - who had been a part of Boeing's storied history - this was a dream come true.  

From its first passenger jet, the 707,  to the 777, which was Boeing's first fly-by-wire airliner and the first entirely computer-designed commercial aircraft, Dick Van Cise has been a part of that Boeing history.  

" It's just a tremendous airplane and I just had this spot in my heart, if you will, for ever getting inside of it.  But I never had the opportunity, never took the opportunity to do it because I was always flying somewhere else with our current jet types" said Van Cise.  

By the way if the last name looks familiar, your right.  Dick van Cise is the father of KOMO's Rick Van Cise, and the grandfather of KOMO's Taylor Van Cise.

As a customer relations manager, Van Cise would fly worldwide to help deliver jets to customers, some of them, even royalty.   Van Cise also helped new nations establish their own national airlines with Boeing jets.

Van Cise says he also proudly served 25 years with the US Navy, retiring with the rank of Captain.  But it wasn't the military history of the B-17 that thrilled Van Cise, it was the Boeing company history.

So on this Friday this company man got to enjoy the long awaited thrill of his life, to finally take a ride in a B-17.

"It was fantastic.  It's just...I can't say enough, it was so thrilling" said Van Cise.  "It's so small and tiny (inside the plane) but to be able to walk around and look around, it was the thrill of a lifetime."

The smile on his face was ear to ear, and may have given his cheeks muscles cramps. In fact looking at his face, I would describe Van Cise's level of happiness, as that of a parent holding their child for the first time, or a child receiving the best present of all time.  So what a perfect present for this "company man" who had been with Boeing since the birth of the jet age.

Van Cise has a special place in his heart for the B-17, a plane born in Washington State, in 1934, the same state  and year where he was born.  And the day of this flight, June 20th 2014, just happened to be Dick Van Cise's 80's birthday.   How is his family going to top this gift?