"The French American" and the B-17

Aluminium has played a central role in the history of aviation for over a century.
20 December, 2016
Some of the aircraft that served in the Second World War still take flight today.
The stars in "The French American," a film release set for 2017, include more than actor Julien Oblette in the leading role of John Tschirhart. The true story of Tschirhart's life during World War II also required a vintage B-17 bomber, and according to Darla Rae, the film's executive producer, the team needed one that was as historically accurate as possible – even if it didn't fly. She lucked out with "The Aluminum Overcast."

The all-aluminium plane, known as The Flying Fortress decades ago, ran bombing missions over occupied Europe during the war years. There are just a dozen or so of the remaining planes that are flight-worthy, including one that never saw combat because it was produced at the very end of WWII.
That plane, dubbed the Aluminum Overcast, travels around the United States at vintage air shows, and it was on hand for the dedication of a new museum dedication in Colorado when Rae heard about it. She decided to ask if it could be used for "The French American" filming, and was delighted to receive the OK.

The project really begins in the American state of Texas, where 95-year-old Tschirhart was living until just a few weeks ago. The B-17 bombardier with the compelling love story died in October, and although he will never see the completed film – which is due out in spring – he was able to assist during its creation.

The short version is that Tschirhart was an American who lived in France until the country was occupied in June 1940. He returned to the United States as a 20-year-old, and joined the military after the bombing of Pearl Harbor the next year. His real motivation was to return to Malou, the love of his life, who was left behind in France. As it turns out, she was working in the French Resistance as he flew about 35 missions over Europe – and he later learned Malou died in the war. Tschirhart married another and lived a long and full life after returning to the United States, one shaped by Malou and his sense of French identity.
"The French American" seeks to tell his story with the utmost accuracy, as most World War II veterans or survivors are now aging or gone in Europe and the United States alike. The cast and crew were driven by the commitment to honor a true story, which helps explain their putting in the effort to secure use of the vintage B-17 for it.
The Aluminum Overcast, delivered to the U.S. Air Force in May of 1945, is a B-17G model. The earliest versions of the plane were introduced in the 1930s, with the B-17G as a final iteration. They were the most heavily produced – almost 9,000 were manufactured between 1943 and 1945 – and the few survivors are primarily B-17G models. Although not as famous as the Memphis Belle (at least not yet), the Aluminum Overcast is a popular example of the vintage planes that captivate historians and enthusiasts.

The all-metal planes, made of aluminium alloy and covered in an aluminium skin, carried a crew of 10 and when fully armed and loaded, could weigh close to 30,000 kilograms. It flew at speeds up to 462 kmh.

The plane's role in the Second World War, and its contributions to further advancing military aviation, have not been forgotten in the decades since. Thanks to "The French American," neither will the lovestruck bombardier who flew them them over France.
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