Fly in a B-17? Why Not?
This is one of those bucket list things: Get a flight in a WWII war bird. We took one today in the B-17 bomber â€śMemphis Belleâ€ť (not to be confused with the other B-17 Memphis Belle, but youâ€™d be excused if you did).
A non-profit called the Liberty Foundation is running this plane and a Curtiss P-40 fighter (alas, laid up) around the country to raise awareness of WWII history and braveryâ€”and raise $3 million or more to restore another B-17, a replica of the â€śLiberty Belle,â€ť that founder Don Brooksâ€™s father flew as a tail gunner. The Liberty Belle suffered major damage in a fire last year, according to Keith Youngblood, our volunteer spokes guide on todayâ€™s flight.
â€śThey donâ€™t teach much about World War II in school anymore,â€ť Youngblood tells a gaggle of press at Martin Airport. â€śPeople see pictures of these planes with a wing shot off, rolling down. They donâ€™t realize thereâ€™s 10 men on that plane.â€ť
Nearly 13,000 B-17s were built but there are no more than 14 Boeing B-17 â€śFlying Fortressesâ€ť airworthy these days, and only one that flies as â€śMemphis Belle,â€ť the name made world famous in 1943 after it and crew completed 25 bombing missions in Europe. In those daysâ€”before long-range fighter escorts could protect themâ€”about a quarter of the allied bombers sent on any raid didnâ€™t come back. Memphis Belleâ€™s Capt. Robert Morgan & crew were both good and lucky, and they returned to the states for a War Bond tour. A documentary got made, and that movie formed the basis for the Hollywood treatment in 1990â€”in which this plane starred. You want to see it close up? Head over to Martin Airport in Middle River on August 18 or 19. Tours are freeâ€”though donations gratefully accepted. Want a ride? Call ahead: (918)-340-0243. Be prepared to shell out $450â€”planes like this cost upwards of $1 million per year to keep alive.
The flight is about 20 minutes. The inside of the plane is Spartanâ€”all rivets and smooth wood, steel guns and cables and bulky radio equipment.
The bomb bays have fake bombs, the turrets turn and the guns swivel. The ride in a B-17â€”at least on a perfect flying day like todayâ€”is smooth as glass. The observation hatch was open.
Warren Dorfler, a B-17 mechanic who served 26 months in the 351 Bomb Group in England during the war, said his last trip on a B-17 took place on May 8, 1945. He flew today, and after the flight emerged from the hatch, with his cane and some effort, smiling.
Oh, and the original Memphis Belle? Thatâ€™s in an Ohio hanger, undergoing restoration to become a museum exhibit.