B-17 flight to honor ‘Memphis Belle’
Public will be able to take a ride in historic aircraft next weekend
ALBANY A World War II B-17 Flying Fortress will take to the skies over Albany on Aug. 10 and 11 in honor of the 70th anniversary of the final mission of the Boeing B-17 “Memphis Belle.”
The public will have a chance to tour the Liberty Foundation’s B-17 at the Albany International Airport free of charge, and for a fee, they can take a flight above Albany in the historic aircraft.
“The B-17s were the workhouses of the Eighth Air Force in World War II, all of our heavy bombers,” said Scott Maher, director of operations for the Liberty Foundation, a nonprofit flying museum based in Claremore, Okla.
For the war effort, more than 12,700 of the massive fighter planes were built, but just nine functioning ones remain, and only four are accessible to the public, he said.
The B-17G plane that will be on display in Albany was built at the end of the war and never saw combat, but it was used to fight forest fires, Maher said. It was restired in the 1980s to resemble a B-17F model. The job included reinstallation of power turrets, an early tailgunner’s compartment and an early Sperry dorsal turret recovered from a South Pacific wreck.
The plane was used in 1989 in the filming of the movie “Memphis Belle,” which was released a year later. The movie tells the story of the 25th and final mission of an American B-17 bomber based in England during World War II. The Memphis Belle was the first B-17 to complete 25 missions, Maher noted.
The B-17 planes were called Flying Fortresses because of their defensive firepower. Mainly operated by the Eighth Air Force in Europe, they saw action in every theater of operation during World War II. The Memphis Belle flew with the 91st Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force.
Earl Morrow, of Granville, piloted a B-17 during World War II and recalled the impact the planes had on the war effort.
“We probably dropped more bombs than any other plane that was in the air during the war,” he said. “It just brought the Germans to almost a dead stop.”
Morrow flew 17 missions before his plane was shot down in November 1944.
“We got hit by a bunch of German fighters and they told me that my rudder and stabilizer were gone. I saw about 10 feet go off the left wing and then they put two cannon shells in the cockpit beside my copilot, and now we’ve got a fire going,” he recounted. “I had to give the bailout signal, and we were at 39,000 feet.”
Morrow said he spent the remainder of the war in prisoner-of-war camps. Once freed, he went on to fly for American Airlines.
The plane that will be on display in Albany will look much like the B-17 he once flew.
“Everything on board is just as it was when it rolled out of the factory — all of the guns, the bombsight; inert bombs are all on board. It is absolutely a hands-on-history kind of a World War II time capsule, if you will,” Maher said.
The Liberty Foundation’s B-17 will be open to the public at the airport from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Public flights will be held every hour on the hour from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and ground tours will be held once the flights are over.
Flights are $410 for Liberty Foundation members and $450 for non-members. Passengers can become Liberty Foundation members for $40 and share the member discount with family and friends.
The flight experience takes 45 minutes, with approximately a half-hour in the air.
It costs more than $4,500 per flight hour to keep the B-17 in the air, and annual maintenance costs top $1.5 million, according to the Liberty Foundation.
For more information or to make a flight reservation, call 918-340-0243 or visit www.libertyfoundation.org.