submitted by Everett Gibson
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engine heavy bomber developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). Relatively fast and high-flying for a bomber of its era, the B-17 was used primarily in the European Theater of Operations. The B-17 and many other WWII aircraft were repurposed after the war and continued to fly for many years before these warbirds were retired.
In 1967, an American Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-17G-95-DL built by Douglas-Long Beach, was purchased by the Commemorative Air Force’s Gulf Coast Wing “Texas Raiders” group, which maintained and flew the aircraft out of Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport in Conroe, Texas.
Earlier this month, a military aviation enthusiast shared a special story about this magnificent warbird and Hearne’s small municipal airport. But, we need a little history of the air field before we get to Everett Gibson’s story.
Kent Brunette, a local historian, writes: “[The] Hearne Air Field was constructed as an auxiliary landing field for the Bryan Air Force Base (BAFB). A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project built to exacting military specifications, Brown & Root began construction on Hearne Air Field on August 7, 1952. Hearne Air Field was finished by March 1, 1954. Formal dedication ceremonies were held on May 13, 1954.” A true product of the Cold War era.
A Hearne Democrat newspaper article at the time reads: “Constructed chiefly to provide a practice area for students learning landings and take-offs, the asphaltic concrete strip of the auxiliary field provides an alternate strip in the area should the jet runways on the Bryan base be restricted for any reason. During flying hours, Hearne Air Field will accommodate a constant stream of T-33 jet trainers under the direction of a mobile tower. Accompanying the mobile unit will be BAFB ambulance and crash crews.” The BAFB and its auxiliary fields were decommissioned in May 1961 and deeded to TAMU and City of Hearne.
Today, Hearne Municipal Airport has an FAA-approved, 4,000-foot improved lighted runway with over-runs of 1,000 feet on its north and 2,200 feet on its south. The original 33-inch thick concrete- and steel-reinforced base of the initial 7200 ft runway makes it a perfect emergency alternative for landing runway if needed since it can handle the weight of large aircraft. Just such an emergency arose and the Hearne Airport was ready to serve again. We thank Everett Gibson for sharing this story.
“During the Spring of 1990’s the Commemorative Air Force’s B-17 Flying Fortress made an unscheduled stop at the World War 2 Hearne airport. “Texas Raiders” was on a mission from Ellington Airport, Houston, TX to Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, TX when unexpected bad weather forced the aircraft to land at the Hearne Airport. The aircraft encountered the edge of a weather system moving across Texas. The crew of the bomber decided the proper thing to do was to get the aircraft on the ground and let the storm pass over. We noted our location and saw the Hearne Airport available as a safe location to be for the storm to pass over. We made a pass over the small airport and noted it appeared safe for the four-engine bomber to land on the runway. We landed and taxied to a safe area. The storm continued to build darker and moved over the airport with wind and rain during a 10-minute period. After the rain, we noted what a quiet and peaceful location we had chosen to stop at. The Texas Blue Bonnets and Indian Paint Brushes were everywhere around the airport. The attached photograph shows the beauty of “Texas Raiders” along with the wild flowers at the Hearne airport during a brief interlude of time. Thank you, Hearne, for providing our airplane and crew a safe haven to stop at.”Story submitted by Everett Gibson
Some 30 years after its brief visit, the “Texas Raiders” B-17 flew the skies one last time. The aircraft was destroyed on November 12, 2022, in a mid-air collision with a P-63 Kingcobra at an air show at Dallas Executive Airport, Texas. All five occupants and the P-63 pilot were killed.
We are saddened by the loss of life. We like to remember this Flying Fortress as resting in the wildflower fields of Hearne Municipal Airport forever.