CARLSBAD — Bob and Patsy Cozens approached the tarmac at McClellan-Palomar Airport on May 5 as the other curious guests did, anxious to see the World War II relics on display.
But what set them apart from the crowd was that in just minutes, they would embark on a once-in-a-lifetime B-17 flight with three generations of family in tow.
“It is such a beautiful day,” Patsy said. “And to have four generations here!”
An Encinitas native, 91-year-old Bob was thrilled to have his family join him on a flight that he had so often taken as a former B-17 pilot in World War II.
The momentous occasion also marked the first time that his wife, whom he had named three planes after, would be along for the ride.
“Being the pilot, I had the prerogative of naming my aircraft,” Cozens said. “I had the Patsy Ann 1, 2 and 3.”
As the extended family waited to board the plane, Bob reminisced about his service with the military. Then a student at San Diego State, he had signed up for the Army Air Corps and was soon on his way overseas, but not before he married his college sweetheart in the afternoon on July 26, 1942.
“We got married the day he got his (pilot) wings,” Pat recalled. “I like to say that I then clipped his wings!”
Based out of England, Bob vividly recalls his first combat mission on May 13, 1943, and his daytime raids over Europe. He flew the Patsy Ann 3 up until his 16th mission (out of 25), before he was transferred to command a new division.
“I had to leave my Patsy Ann and my crew,” he said. “It was a bit of a tearjerker.”
When it was time for the family to start boarding for their flight, they were full of excitement as they walked the tarmac to the B-17. As the guests of honor, Bob and Patsy were assigned prime seats right behind the pilots.
After the plane returned from their 30-minute trip up and down the San Diego coast, the extended family climbed out of the plane with permanent smiles, finally understanding what the family patriarch had experienced during the war so many decades ago.
“It was a lot funner than I thought it would be!” said 9-year-old Mackana Cummins. He was the youngest to join his great-grandfather in flight, and dreams of becoming a pilot some day too.
“It was exciting — so terrific,” said Patsy, who had trouble sleeping the night before in anticipation of the flight. “It brought back memories of when we first got married.”
Although it has been 65 years since he controlled a B-17 plane, Bob noted that not much had changed, but that “it was a lot more difficult to move around than it used to be.”
Bob’s son, Tom, summed up the family’s experience in three words: “It was amazing.”