A piece of World War Two history can be spotted in the skies over the Louisville area this weekend. Kentucky Public Radio’s Rick Howlett took a ride on the restored B-17 Bomber that’s on its first national tour. The Boeing B-17 is better known as the Flying Fortress. More than 12-thousand were produced starting in 1935. Many of them took part in missions over Nazi-occupied Europe during World War Two. Only a dozen are still flying today.
This one, making a stop at the Clark County Airport in Sellersburg, Indiana, was built in 1945.
Its’ been restored by the non-profit Liberty Foundation and was used in the 1990 film Memphis Belle, about the famed B-17 that survived 25 combat missions in the war.
This is a plane built for combat, not for comfort, and just climbing aboard is an adventure. Inside there are machine gun positions, a turret ball, a radio room and a narrow catwalk that leads to the cockpit.
Our flight team is led by Ray Fowler, who lets passengers wander about the aircraft during the flight.
“The two pilot seats are best seat in the house, but everyone gets to go down the nose to get in the bombardier seat and to move through the different combat positions. So we tell everybody it’s a great way to experience the B-17 without actually getting shot at, which is important,” said Fowler.
The Liberty Foundation is offering public flights aboard the B-17 this weekend. It cost $450 dollars per person for about a half-hour ride, but Fowler says it’s a necessary cost. Keeping the plane airworthy and on tour costs more than one and a half million dollars each year.
This week the Liberty Foundation offered free rides to World War Two veterans. The flight brought back memories for 92 year old Wayne Tabor, who flew 30 combat missions on a similar aircraft.
“Those days are gone forever. Never going to be a war fought like that one anymore,” said Tabor.
The first mission was on March 22, 1944, over heavily defended Berlin.
"Oh, boy. We lost two airplanes that day with midair collisions, lost two more the next day with midair collisions. After we’dbeen over there after a full ten missions and we figured up how many planes we’d lost…..uh oh, we don’t have a chance, man,” added Tabor.
The B-17 Flying Fortress will be at the Clark County Airport Saturday and Sunday. Flights are in the mornings, but the aircraft will be on the ground for tours in the afternoon. There’s no admission charge, but donations are encouraged.