I was brought up on a steady diet of World War II movies and folklore, thanks to my father (who served in the Army after the war in the fifties). So when I got the chance to ride on a demonstration flight for the restored B-17 bomber "Liberty Belle" when it visited Chester County last week, I jumped at the chance to fly in this amazing plane. You can't overestimate how much this simple, sturdy bomber did to wreck the industrial might of the Axis powers and help us regain Europe.
One of the pilots, Ron Gause (above), from Atlanta, guided us through the history of this plane. Gause is semi-retired, but is part of a 12-person crew that flies the Liberty Belle around the country giving rides, ground tours and spending lots of time talking with anybody interested in the lively history of the B-17. The crew just returned from England where they spent time flying World War II veterans who actually flew these planes during the war.
They will continue to fly until November, then take a break until next year.
The Liberty Belle was actually made near the end of the war, and did not see action in Europe. It was used for a variety of purposes after the war, including as a platform for test equipment. At one point, the plane was split in two on the ground during a storm. The Liberty Foundation completely rennovated the plane (literally rescuing it from the scrap heap) to make it look as it would have during the war, right down to the machine guns (but no, they don't fire).
These views are from the bombardier's position, which is an unbelievable place to sit. We were flying over Chester County, roughly near Route 202 and Route 30.
The crew opened the top hatch, and we could stick our heads outside. But not too far, before the 160-mph wind caught your hair.
Some great movies featureing B-17's: "Twelve O'Clock High," "Tora Tora Tora," "Memphis Belle," "Flying Fortress," "The Best Years of our Lives," and there are others.