Local News
8:30 am
Fri September 28, 2012

B-17 "Flying Fortress" Tour Makes Local Stop

A piece of World War II history can be spotted in the skies over the Louisville area this weekend.

It's one of the stops on a national tour by a restored B-17 Bomber.

The Boeing B-17 is better known as the Flying Fortress. More than 12,000 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," Fowler said.

"So we tell everybody it’s a great way to experience the B-17 without actually getting shot at, which is important."

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 charge. Keeping the plane airworthy and on tour costs more than $1.5 million each year.

"We spend more than we’ll ever bring in with this airplane. Just insurance alone is about $70,000 per year, so we don’t ever catch up, we just offset our costs Our goal is to keep them out of the museum, to keep them flying. We do that through public support."

Earier this week, the Liberty Foundation offered free rides to World War Two veterans.

"Those days are gone forever. Never going to be a war fought like that one anymore," said Wayne Tabor of Jeffersontown, who flew 30 combat missions on a similar aircraft.

Tabor’s 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’d been over there after a full ten missions and we figured up how many planes we’d lost, (we said), 'uh oh, we don’t have a chance, man.'"

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 afternoons. There’s no set admission charge for the tours, but donations are encouraged.