On May 30th, 2011, the Liberty Foundation brought its B-17 to Saint Paul, Minnesota.
*The restored Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Liberty Belle” crashed and burned in a cornfield outside of Chicago Monday June 13th, 2011 but the seven people on board escaped without serious injury, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The pilot made an emergency landing after reporting an engine fire, the Tribune reported. Photos from the scene show the plane broken and burned.
The Liberty Foundation’s B-17 was one of several that fly around the country, giving tours. It was built under contract by Lockheed toward the end of World War II and never saw any combat. The Liberty Foundation’s Don Brooks bought the plane at the turn of the century, painting it in the colors and nose art of a namesake B-17 that flew many missions with the 8th Air Force’s 390th bomb group, including missions with Brooks’ father as tail gunner.
Flying in a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a fun, if loud experience, when the trip is a joyride over Seattle. It’s harder to imagine a 10-hour bombing mission over Nazi Germany 65 years ago.
“It all comes back,” Retired Boeing B-17 tail gunner Ted Gary, of Burien, said shortly before boarding the Liberty Foundation’s B-17, “Liberty Belle” Monday. “You try to forget it for 60-some years and now you recall so much of it. It’s amazing.”
Liberty Belle bears plenty of reminders of her deadly purpose, including .50-caliber machine guns, with ammo, bombs in the bay and a bomb sight, with crosshairs, in the nose.
But the nose also is a great place to look out over downtown Seattle, Green Lake and Elliott Bay. Press your head up against the Plexiglas and it’s almost as if there’s no plane at all, if you can block out the noise.
The authenticity has its limits, as exemplified by the Garmin navigation system on the flight deck.
“During the war, they were black and white,” pilot John Shuttleworth deadpanned.
Liberty Belle was built under contract by Lockheed toward the end of World War II and never saw any combat. The Liberty Foundation’s Don Brooks bought the plane at the turn of the century, painting it in the colors and nose art of a namesake B-17 that flew many missions with the 8th Air Force’s 390th bomb group, including missions with Brooks’ father as tail gunner.
Liberty Belle is one of 14 World War II Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers still flying and the most recently restored.
The plane’s door bears signatures from all the veterans she has met through the Liberty Foundation, said Scott Maher, the foundation’s director of operations. “We’re losing 1,500 World War II veterans a day, and this airplane’s out for them.”
Bad memories wouldn’t keep Gary and fellow World War II veterans off the flight. in fact, Gary got to take up his old post for a previous trip from Seattle to Spokane.
“I flew over Mount Rainier in the tail. It reminded me of flying over the Alps,” he recalled. “We got off course and the Swiss started shooting at us.”
The Swiss weren’t trying to shoot them down, just correct their path, he added.
Flying around the Space Needle evoked a more pleasant memory.
“The pilot used to let me practice flying,” Gary said. “I flew a 360-degree turn around the Eiffel Tower.”
Helen Dowsett, of Puyallup, never flew in a B-17 before Monday. But she built plenty of B-17 wings during Wold War II, in a converted ice arena in Tacoma.
“That’s a rivet off of a plane in 1945,” she said, holding up what now serves as a zipper pull.
“The ride was very easy,” Dowsett said after the flight. “My husband, he was in the 82nd Airborne. … He said he felt uncomfortable flying without a parachute.”
My Uncle James was a tail-gunner for a B-17 during WWII. He passed away last year. Amazing generation. Amazing planes they flew. Built to last. We can never thank Our Veterans and those that support them enough.
added: Jun 13, 2011