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The official history of the ArmyAirForces web site

by Scott Burris

Back to the beginning. In January 1998 I posted a web page seeking information about my grandfather's WWII history. It was an update of a university project I’d tinkered with in the early-90s. Within a few months I had an informal email chain making the rounds. The roster consisted of a few like-minded 1st and 2nd generation descendants and a small but patient group of tech-savvy WWII veterans willing to put up with us.

It didn't take long before "reply-all" got out of control.

We switched to a free email based listserv application and called it the "HeavyBombers list." It was so much fun that we spun off another list called 'Extra' just for conversation. I tried to keep the main list focused on my grandfather’s unit and some related groups but with no understanding of what we’d really started. It quickly expanded to general B-17 units and that was fine until our B-24 friends asked to join. I blinked, and the B-29 guys were involved. That was how the "Heavy & Very Heavy Bombers list" started.

On September 25, 1998 I purchased a domain hosting package and a web site name, HeavyBombers.com.

A switch to a new email list host lost the first year's archive, but from August 19, 1999, through April 6, 2002, our ever-growing bunch generated over 17 thousand research related messages.

With some nudging, the mission expanded beyond the big bombers. A name change brought us to ArmyAirForces.com, created on May 9, 2002.

The move also included a switch to a forum based format and that’s when things really took off. For a while I was adding a new sub forum every few weeks. The forum migrated a few times between hosting services and software packages. Some transitions were bumpier than others, but the site continued to grow. The years ticked by and member and post counts climbed, but so did the folded wings list of the WWII generation. That was difficult, especially when the original list members started taking their final flights.

From a functional standpoint, the forum was really humming along. By the later 2000s, the site was self-supporting and we added some terrific features as the first decade of the new century clicked over. The tradeoff was that my own research and content contributions started to decline.

Unfortunately, what I didn’t know was that in late-2014 or early 2015, support for the forum package had effectively ended despite having renewed our license fee. Disaster struck when the forum encountered a serious software glitch and technical support was gone. Our data was intact, but the application was broken. We’d faced some difficult transitions before and emerged victorious. This time was different.

I tried to recover with a move to a new platform and bounced between hosting services, but it took too long. With the old archives inaccessible, the forum limped through 2016 and into 2017.

My career demands had changed dramatically and I was professionally happier than ever, but the ArmyAirForces project was in shambles. After 20 years I’d burned out and it was time for a change. I made peace with my decision and announced that the site would close on December 1, 2017.

Endings also bring new beginnings. The complete forum archives, old and new, were entrusted to the Heritage League of the Second Air Division. They agreed to my sole requirement, protecting member’s email addresses and private correspondence. Please be patient and consider lending them your support as they have an enormous task ahead of them. I’m confident that with innovative ideas and an injection of enthusiasm they’ll take the project beyond what I ever could.

If I have any regrets, it’s that future researchers will never be able to know the veterans we befriended along the way. What I learned from them personally remains a treasured memory and they are all missed.

On the bright side, twenty years after this project started the promise of the information superhighway is here and it is real. What once had to be painstakingly excavated from the archives over months or years is now available with the click of a mouse. Use it to your advantage.

My plan is to step back and focus on where I started, my own personal research. While I won’t be part of any continuation of the old ArmyAirForces.com project, I wish it and you all the best.

Keep ‘em flying.

The Heritage League Forum Project

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