At age 98, Ed Clarac, a World War II B-17 pilot with the 351st Bomb Group flying out of Polebrook, England, suited up for his 34th mission — albeit this time over friendly skies.
On Friday, in coordination with the Lone Star Flight Museum, Clarac took to the skies in a B-17 once again as a special passenger of the museum.
“It’s very exciting,” Clarac told KPRC 2. “It gives me goosebumps. It’s so emotional.”
“I think what it impressed me about [the B-17] the most was the punishment that it would take the amount of damage that would get you home. It was a super airplane,” Clarac continued.
The Purple Heart recipient knows intimately the kind of punishment the bomber could take.
During his 16th mission, Clarac’s B-17 dubbed “Smart Ball” was hit by enemy flak over the foothills of the Alps — losing three of its four engines. As Clarac desperately sought to find a way home, the pilot and his crew were attacked by a lone German fighter as enemy gunners from the hills assailed them from below.
Shrapnel tore into Clarac, cutting his throat-microphone and slashing his flight jacket. Miraculously, however, Clarac and his crew managed to make an emergency landing relatively unscathed at a forward fighter base southeast of Paris.
The odds of a B-17 crewman surviving the 25 missions required to complete a tour were only one in four. Yet Clarac went on to fly 17 more missions for a total of 33 — an impressive feat of skill and good fortune.
The bomber pilot was taxiing to his 34th mission when the news came down of Germany’s surrender.
Seventy-six years later, Clarac was once again back in a Flying Fortress.
“It brought back a lot of memories. Some good some bad, but it was unbelievable and I’m so grateful,” he said after the successful flight.
”You don’t expect it,” Clarac continued. “You think you don’t deserve it, but it’s very meaningful to me now.”