As far as Jack Bally was concerned, if you spent enough time admiring a plane, you might as well build one of your own.
That’s why the Vietnam veteran and aviation enthusiast decided to build a 1:3 scale replica of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber back in 1999, according to Jalopnik. It would take nearly two decades to complete, but the result is easily one of the coolest homebuilt planes you will ever see.
The idea for the Bally Bomber, as it’s known among aficionados, was hatched over a “few adult beverages” shortly before the turn of the century. Initially, Bally had wanted to make a scale replica of the B-24 Liberator but soon discovered it would be too hard to shrink down. He then turned his attention to the B-17. After poring over the schematics of the 1:9 scale radio-controlled version of the plane, he decided it was possible and quickly got to work.
Having built several planes before, Bally would have known his mini-bomber would require a ton of work, but even he probably didn’t foresee it taking 17 years and 40,000 hours to complete (though he claimed it felt “really fast”). The replica has an aluminum-riveted fuselage, retractable landing gear and a wingspan of 34 feet, which is relatively large for a homebuilt plane. It’s also not an inch-perfect replica, as the cockpit had to be made larger so that a full-sized adult could fly the plane. The biggest challenge may have been the engine setup, though. Most homebuilt planes have a single-engine design, but the B-17 is powered by four Hirth F-30 two-stroke four-cylinder air-cooled boxer engines which combine to produce 240 hp.
Although it would take its first flight in 2016, the Bally Bomber wouldn’t make its public debut until the Experimental Aircraft Association’s 2018 AirVenture airshow in Oshkosh, Wisc. It wasn’t just there for display, either, as it took to the air and showed a gleeful crowd of enthusiasts what it could do.
The airshow attendees weren’t the only ones admiring Bally’s handiwork; even those who’d been following the arduous build process were impressed by what he had accomplished.
“He said, I’m going to build a B-17 bomber. I said, yeah, right. . .Well, let’s see what you got going. So, we went up to his house and by golly he had all the plans, and what he was going to do, and had it started.” Bally’s friend and fellow airplane enthusiast Richard Kosi said at the time. “I was just amazed at it.”
Unfortunately, Bally would end up spending less time enjoying the plane than he did building it. He died last summer at the age of 79. But his work, in particular the Bally Bomber, flies on. Earlier this summer, the silver plane and its new owner could be seen soaring above this year’s AirVenture show.