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World War II pilot reunited with B-17 ‘Flying Fortress’

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PORTAGE, Mich. -- Lester Ippel is part of a small but distinct group of World War II pilots. Ippel, 96, piloted the B-17 Flying Fortress.

He hasn't seen much of the plane since the war, but on Wednesday, man and machine came together as if they hadn't skipped a beat.

One of the few remaining B-17's that still fly was visiting the Kalamazoo Air Zoo.

"It's a great airplane," he said. "It's the best airplane ever made, I think."

Ippel joined the armed forces toward the end of the war in 1945. He and his nine person crew flew combat and relief missions, most of them over enemy territory.

"It's too bad that it was wartime and our job was bombing and destroying, which was not enjoyable," he said.

On Wednesday, Ippel watched the plane in action once again, not because he had to, as he did decades before, but because he wanted to.

"I guess we have to be grateful that was that good an airplane and brought us back safely," he said. "So I am very thankful for B-17s."

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