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Last updated: Tue. Sep. 25, 2012 - 01:13 pm EDT

'Memphis Belle' plane takes flight in Indiana


SELLERSBURG — For World War II veteran Joe Gagliardi, Monday marked the first time he had flown in a B-17 since his 1945 homecoming trip with other soldiers from the U.S. Army Air Forces' 413th Bombardment Squadron.

Gagliardi, 96, then was a 29-year-old certified B-17 mechanic who had worked his way up to flight engineer.

"It had 13 machine guns — that's why they called it the Flying Fortress," said Gagliardi, who flew 28 bombing missions over Germany and one over the former Czechoslovakia.

On Monday, the Louisville resident was one of several passengers who flew in the plane used in the 1990 film "Memphis Belle."

"It was all so familiar and brought back many memories," said a smiling Gagliardi moments after the plane rumbled over parts of southern Indiana and Louisville.

The actual Memphis Belle is being restored at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, but the movie plane is making its first national tour this year after being purchased and restored by the Liberty Foundation, the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., reported.

"Our goal is to keep them out of the museum and keep them flying," said foundation pilot Ray Fowler.

The public will have the chance to view and fly in the B-17 starting at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Clark County Airport off U.S. 31 in southern Indiana.

Flights are $450 per person and the money raised goes to the foundation, which also owns a P-40 Warhawk and is restoring the B-17 Liberty Belle after an in-flight fire caused a crash landing in a field in Aurora, Ill., last year.

None of the seven people aboard the Liberty Belle were injured, which Fowler's co-pilot, Dave Lyon, said is a testament to the B-17s construction.

Lyon said 12,732 B-17s were manufactured, about a dozen of which remain in America.

"It's a living memorial to all of the veterans who sacrificed tremendously," Lyon said.

Gagliardi saw the Liberty Belle when it was at the Clark County Airport a couple of years ago.

Wayne Tabor, 93, who served in the 727th Bombardment Squadron, also took a flight on Monday.

"It's been 70 years since I've been on a B-17," said Tabor, of Jeffersontown, a former waist gunner who worked mainly on B-24s.

Tabor and Gagliardi joked before their flight about the speed of the large B-17, which in addition to bombs can carry about 1,800 gallons of fuel and has four 1,200-horsepower engines.

Keeping the plane steady required pilots to rely largely on finesse, and it has no hydraulics.

"That was the slowest plane in the war. Fighters would circle around us," Gagliardi said, adding it was outdated in technology before the Second World War began.

Still, he feels it was "the best plane ever made. It could take more punishment than any other."

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