From the outside, it looks large. Standing on the tarmac, looking up at the B-17 World War II-era bomber with a wingspan of 103 feet 9 inches, and length of 74 feet 9 inches.
Climb up the steps to enter the Flying Fortress and it’s like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. The world of bright blue skies over McGhee Tyson Airport becomes an aluminum capsule defined by shadows and olive drab color.
This is “Ye Olde Pub.” On Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 14-15, the Liberty Foundation is bringing “Ye Olde Pub” to McGhee Tyson as part of its 2019 “Higher Call” tour. It is also bringing a P-51 Mustang. Both planes will be available for the public for flights.
Once inside and buckled up, the engines start warming up. It’s the first in a series of sensory experiences. There’s the noise of the engines and the props, the smell of the exhaust of burning fuel and oil. Then the taxi to the runway. The clue to take-off comes when the engines that were rough at idle really start to roar, smoothing out as they reach full power.
Co-pilot Melissa Foures says after the flight that, “These things wanna fly.” That they do. Like a thoroughbred horse bred to run, the B-17 was built to soar.
B-17s weren’t built for comfort. No passengers, all crew: bombardier, navigator, pilot, co-pilot, top turret gunner/engineer, radio operator/gunner, ball turret gunner, right waist gunner, left waist gunner and tail gunner. Duck, hold on and sometimes crawl. Those are the simple requirements for maneuvering through the interior of this war bird.
The jostling, up and down, side to side, is constant. The noise relentless. Those old black-and-white movies where crew members holler at each other during the flight? Forget that. Screaming right into the ear is the only way to be heard.
Windows are few, installed only for the needs of the 10-man crew. Other openings are for firing the 50-caliber machine guns to ward off enemy fighters.
Pilot Bill Clark, a retired Delta Air Lines pilot, has flown many planes over his 50 years in the air. His last commercial command was piloting Boeing 747s. You can tell he likes this better.
“Every kid in the world went out and played army. I just play it with a real airplane. I have a B-17 to go fly. It’s an honor and a privilege,” he says.
He’s a volunteer. None of the pilots who take these planes aloft are paid. They have their own mission to accomplish, one not measured by a paycheck.
“You have a desire to keep a story going and it’s the story of the greatest generation,” Clark says. “There’s a lot of people that don’t understand it. They don’t teach it anymore. There’s people that call it ‘World War Eleven.’ Part of our job is to still remember the people who got in these tin cans and went up and made sure that we had democracy.”
But even with that higher calling, Clark acknowledges that flying this stick-and-rudder airplane built in 1945 is also about personal satisfaction.
“Flying is a sport. It’s pretty straight forward. It hasn’t changed much. From when Orville and Wilbur took the tail off the front and put it in the back and got rid of the wing warping, airplanes haven’t really changed. They’ve gotten more efficient, but the aerodynamics haven’t changed. There’s laws of physics. They aren’t theories.”
Foures pilots Embrea 175 regional jets for United Airlines. Her reasons for volunteering to fly this Flying Fortress comes from her awareness of what it symbolizes.
“To have a small glimpse of what these guys went through in the war. If these planes could talk, it’s just amazing what they could say,” she says.
They could talk about how the average age of the crew was 22. They could talk about how the U.S. Army Air Corps crews that flew the daylight bombing missions over Europe had a 19% death rate. They could talk about how a crew member had a 1 in 4 chance of surviving 12 to 14 missions.
Clark has a special affinity for the the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) who were crucial to delivering the warplanes.
“The WASPS, the women who first started flying the B-17s, they we’re the unsung heroes. They didn’t fly in combat, but they had a big part to play like everybody else did on the ground.”
That’s part of the history she hopes young people will learn through the B-17 flights she pilots.
“We’ve got to keep the history alive because unfortunately the generations coming up have no idea, not even a glimpse, of what World War II was about and the sacrifices people made and how the country came together.”
As Foures talks, she nods toward the B-17 she just flew as co-pilot.
“Just look at this airplane, as big as this airplane is, just imagine the manpower it took. They had so many people working in the manufacturing that they could build this plane in one hour. That shows you the horsepower that America had in the ’40s, the pride that Americans had to get the flight crews good airplanes to win the war.”
Some of the aluminum that went into building those planes came from just up the road and across Alcoa Highway, where East Tennesseans manufactured aluminum at ALCOA Tennessee Operations.
The “Higher Call” tour is at TAC Air Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson Airport in Alcoa on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 14-15. The B-17 “Ye Olde Pub” will be available for flights. Flights to support the effort cost $475 and last about 25 minutes. A P-51 Mustang with newly painted markings of the 381st Bomb Group also will be flying, with cost starting at $1,195. Flights start around 10 a.m., with the last flight about 2:30 p.m.
For more information go to www.libertyfoundation.org, and to book a flight call the Liberty Foundation tour coordinator at 678-589-7433.
An accidentally deleted video won’t derail a child rape case scheduled for trial later this month.
During a hearing Monday, Sept. 9, in Blount County Circuit Court, a forensic investigator said she accidentally deleted nearly five dozen files from 2016 while attempting to back them up in early 2018.
Christina Copland, an investigator with New Hope — Blount County Children’s Advocacy Center since 2007, said she lost 57 files completely, and about 14 have no audio.
In a phone interview about the potential impact of the lost files, New Hope Executive Director Tabitha Damron said, “To our knowledge this is the only case that has any charge or any pending charges.”
New Hope, which coordinates and delivers services for child victims of physical and sexual abuse, conducted 316 interviews in 2016, Damron said.
The court hearing Monday was on motions in the case of Scott Allen Briggs, 32, East Lincoln Road, Alcoa, who is accused of raping a then-4-year-old boy in January 2016.
Although Copland started a video recording system the evening she met him, the boy was upset and never entered the interview room to answer questions, she and a Blount County detective said.
Judge David Duggan denied a motion by defense attorney Rick Owens to dismiss the case, scheduled for trial Sept. 24, because of the missing video file.
Copland explained during the hearing that she was trying to back up files to an external hard drive when they were deleted.
She contacted a Maryville police officer who handles internet crimes against children for assistance, and he created a mirror image backup of the hard drive. Neither he nor a firm in California that the local internet technology company PCS recommended was able to recover the files.
Damron said New Hope has been working with PCS and since then has installed a new NAS (Network Attached Storage) system with built-in redundancy. New Hope also backs up files to an external hard drive and makes a physical copy on DVD of any interview in which a child discloses an abuse charge.
One interview file could include up 20 gigabytes of data, Copland said, and last year New Hope conducted 384 interviews.
While New Hope has been studying further ways to secure files, Damron said, “This is a huge ongoing expense for us.”
“Most CACs (child advocacy centers) are not the keepers of the records,” she said.
The NAS system alone cost about $2,500, she said, and New Hope works to ensure the dollars that come in go to services for children.
Both Copland and Detective David Henderson of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office testified that the boy in the Briggs case never appeared on a lost video.
“The child was scared and crying and didn’t want to go in the room,” said Henderson, who was sitting in an observation room at New Hope that night and could hear the boy.
The judge repeated several times that he found Copland and Henderson credible, and said he had no reason to believe they were not telling the truth. Paper records they created the same time also indicate the boy never was interviewed that day.
“Essentially we’re talking about a video of nothing,” Assistant District Attorney Ashley Salem said.
Owens argued that the boy’s demeanor and refusal to go in the room could potentially clear his client.
Duggan agreed that if the video existed, Owens would be entitled to it, and it should have been retained. “There was a duty to preserve what took place in that room even if nothing took place,” the judge said.
“I think there was negligence here,” he said. “I don’t find any reason to believe there was gross negligence.”
Duggan also noted that although he hasn’t reviewed the evidence to be presented at trial yet, there appeared to be other significant evidence that could weigh one way or the other. Therefore, he denied Owens’ motion to dismiss the case.
The judge also asked that prosecutor Salem check with PCS to ask specifically whether there was any possibility to recover the file directly from the external hard drive, instead of the mirror backup.
Duggan denied a motion to throw out DNA evidence from Briggs, noting the man had received his Miranda rights and consented to a cheek swab. Owens had argued that before the buccal cells were tested, Briggs said he wanted to revoke his consent and consult an attorney. The judge said that after giving permission and the sample Briggs, “in a somewhat astounding fashion to me,” sat there exchanging text messages on his phone. “He sits there for not an insignificant amount of time.”
Duggan quoted Briggs from a video of that interview saying after the swab was taken, “She’s telling me I should get a lawyer before I give you (‘a’ or ‘the’) DNA sample.”
“He consented to it; he freely gave it,” Duggan said, and while Briggs could have decided to stop talking to investigators he never said, “I want a lawyer” or “I want to stop.”
Duggan granted the state’s motion to limit evidence of the victim’s past sexual behavior. “Right now I have no reason to believe this 6-year-old child has any sexual history,” Duggan said, adding that he could reverse his own ruling after reviewing a 2018 video in which the boy was interviewed after allegedly being the victim in an incident on a school bus. Salem said no one was prosecuted in that incident.
Duggan asked both attorneys for further input on Owens’ motion to separate the child rape trial charges against Briggs of evading arrest from felony reckless endangerment.
A BCSO deputy told the court Briggs agreed over the phone in March 2018 to turn himself in on the warrant for the child rape charge but about three days later hadn’t done so. When deputies tried to pull him over on Big Springs Road, Briggs led them on about a two-minute pursuit at speeds exceeding 90 mph, until he ran out of gas, the deputy said.
Owens argued that hearing the evading arrest charge at the same time might lead a jury to assume Briggs is guilty of the other charge.
When word spread Monday about the death of Paul Bales, friends, family and others he touched in his long life of service remembered him for his humor, his quick smile and all the ways he worked for the people of Blount County.
In particular, he was remembered as chairman of the Empty Pantry Fund, a collaboration begun in 1952 by The Daily Times and the group now known as the Blount County Jaycees.
Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell, vice president of the Empty Pantry Fund, was a personal friend of Paul Bales for many years.
“Paul was the face and lifeblood of the Empty Pantry for 60 years. He was responsible for making sure thousands of families had food for Christmas. … I have never known anyone that cared more about giving to those in need than Paul, and people from all over Blount County from all walks of life loved Paul and he loved them.
“Blount County and I have lost a truly great friend that we could always count on no matter what we needed. It is hard to think about the Empty Pantry and Christmas without seeing Paul’s smiling face and hearing his infectious laughter. So many people will miss him. I know I sure will miss him dearly,” Mitchell said.
Lon Fox, president of the Empty Pantry Fund and also a personal friend of Bales, said, “Paul Bales will always be remembered as the chairman of the Empty Pantry Fund.”
Bales, who retired as advertising major accounts executive at The Daily Times in 2009, began his career at The Daily Times as a paper carrier in the early 1950s when he was a high school student. Even at that young age, the irrepressible Bales showed his work ethic and expertise in sales. In a 2009 story announcing his retirement, he spoke of doing so well at building his paper route that he was given other opportunities to work at the newspaper in addition to working several other jobs and attending high school.
Bales said he wanted to be a cartoonist, and when he saw an advertisement for a mail-in art course Bales, still in high school, saved his money and enrolled in the course. “I could draw the bottom of characters real good, but I could never get the head in perspective the way it ought to be,” he was quoted as saying in 2009. “There was another course in there in advertising, so I took that course.”
When he graduated from that course, the publisher of The Daily Times asked Bales to create an advertisement using several components he would be given. Bales completed the test and was told, “Congratulations. You are now a member of the advertising department,” where he was employed until his retirement.
Quentin Anthony worked closely with Bales in The Daily Times Advertising Department and succeeded him as major accounts executive. He said, “Paul was one of a kind! He would literally give you the shirt off his back if he saw you needed it. He was the face of the Empty Pantry Fund, and even though he has been retired for numerous years, we still had people call every year and ask for Paul Bales for help here at The Daily Times.”
Carl Esposito, publisher of The Daily Times, agreed.
“Paul was one of the most kind, caring and considerate people I’ve ever known. His dedication to The Empty Pantry Fund and the many people it has served over the years is unprecedented, and I know it all came straight from his heart.”
Bales started his community service at the age of 6. He lived in the Alnwick community of Blount County and would take his dog to visit the residents of the Blount County Poor Farm, where William Blount High School stands today. He’d also take his earnings from picking strawberries and buy cookies for the residents.
A turning point in Bales’ life came when he was invited to attend a meeting of the Maryville/Alcoa Jaycees by one of the members. He told the man he wasn’t interested in joining, then asked, “What do the Jaycees do?” He was told, “They help people,” and Bales was convinced to attend a meeting, where he was soon taken under the wings of the older men. They watched over Bales and encouraged him.
“They gave me an application to fill out, and all of a sudden, I was chairman of the Empty Pantry Fund,” Bales was quoted as saying. “That was in 1954.”
The Empty Pantry Fund was chaired by Bales until 2011, when he decided to step down for health reasons. The organizational format then changed to a board composed of volunteers, and Lon Fox was named president of the annual charity in which needy Blount County citizens can sign up to receive foods at Christmas. Fox said, “I still don’t understand how one person did what it takes seven people to do now.” But Bales did it.
Bales’ own participation didn’t end with stepping down as chairman, however. He was involved in both packing and delivering the foods even as late as Christmas 2018. It was, he always said, the highlight of his Christmas.