By Terry Stephens
Bombers fly in formation through Melanie Jordan’s basement. The diary of a B-17 gunner, Sgt. Jack Rowe, who flew 35 missions over Germany and France in 1944, Everett, Wash., inspired the pilot.
Jordan is the founding president of the board that created the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour facility at Paine Field (PAE). She recently hired an artist from Mukilteo, Wash., to paint the bomber formation. To get the effect she wanted, the planes are shown at varying distances; some look close, and others look far away.
“When I stand in the middle and look around, I see a flight of B-17s on their way home to England after a World War II bombing mission over Europe,” she said. “It’s a great tribute to that B-17 pilot and a reminder of that historic period.”
On the recreation room’s walls, the planes are flying parallel. Seated on the sofa, Jordan can lean back to see a bomber with a 12-foot wingspan flying overhead. Soon, she’ll finish the walk-in diorama with painted bombers flying across the floor.
“I wanted to depict the feeling of being in the middle of this huge formation of B-17s,” she said, noting it takes visitors quite a while to see all the planes. “Often, they’ll have stories to tell of a grandfather or a great uncle who was in the war, often as flyers. They like sharing those memories.”
To add to the realism of the scene, she plans to add recorded sounds of all those rumbling bomber engines, along with the sounds of the P-51 and Spitfire escorts and the German Bf 109s on the chase. Right now, the images of the fighters are on paper that is pasted to the walls. Soon, they’ll be painted in.
“It’ll be a great setting for parties and gatherings with friends,” she said.
Jordan has flown a variety of planes, including a J-3 Cub, a gull-winged Corsair and a Boeing 707 airliner. One of her most memorable flights was piloting a B-17, but the inspiration for her murals came from the gunner’s diary, photos and medals, which a friend gave her after the man’s recent death.
“Reading about his descriptions of all 35 missions, beginning June 6, 1944, really got me thinking about depicting one of his missions on my walls,” she said.
Jordan noted that the gunner’s writing style wasn’t dramatic. His most graphic entry was a brief mention that “we flew into the worst flak I’ve seen yet.some fighters (attacking).15 holes in the ship.”
Jordan researched military records and found the man had flown with the 305th Bomb Wing’s 422nd Squadron out of Chelveston, England. His diary mentioned no specific aircraft names or numbers, but the planes painted on the walls do have the squadron’s proper aircraft markings.
“I’m hoping to finish it by Christmas, if I can find the sound tracks I need,” she said. “When people come down the stairs and trigger the hidden sensor at the bottom, they’ll walk into a room that will really be an aviation experience.”