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Last updated: Tue. Jul. 29, 2014 - 08:10 am EDT

'Memphis Belle' B-17 movie plane to offer rides, tour

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Fly on the 'Memphis Belle'

What: Public flights and ground tours of the Liberty Foundation's B-17 "Memphis Belle" bomber. Tours consist of 25- to 30-minute flights and 15-minute tours.

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with flights 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and ground tours after 2 p.m.

Where: Fort Wayne International Airport, Atlantic Aviation FWA, 4021 Air St. From downtown, take Broadway to Bluffton Road. Turn right onto Bluffton to Sand Point Road. Turn right onto Sand Point to Ardmore Avenue. Turn left onto Ardmore, which will become West Ferguson Road and take to the airport. Turn right at Atlantic Aviation FWA.

Cost: $410 for Liberty Foundation members, $450 for nonmembers. Passengers can become Liberty Foundation members for $40 and receive member discount.

Book a flight: 1-918-340-0243 or www.libertyfoundation.org.

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One of the most thrilling stories dating back to World War II revolves around the Boeing B-17 bomber "Memphis Belle," the first plane to complete 25 missions with its crew intact and bolster the morale of U.S. airmen.

The plane was the subject of a 1944 documentary film, "Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress," and a 1990 film, "Memphis Belle," starring Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, Harry Connick Jr. and Sean Astin.

Thanks to the Liberty Foundation, everyone can relive this slice of history when the B-17 used in the 1990 film is displayed this weekend at Atlantic Aviation FWA at Fort Wayne International Airport. The foundation, which is committed to honoring veterans, educating the public and preserving aviation history, offers public flights and ground tours. The foundation is run totally by volunteers — about 30 — including the pilots, according to volunteer Keith Youngblood.

John Ferguson, a corporate pilot with Northop Grumman, said the B-17 tour is a way to "get tangible history. You see it, smell it, hear it." People cannot visit its battle site as they can places like Gettysburg.

"I know in a small way, I experience what they went through," Ferguson said. "Remember our veterans, they're the reason we're here today."

The 10 crewmen suffered extreme bitter cold temperatures — about minus-30 to minus-60 — as the aircraft was exposed to the frigid air 10-12 hours at a time as they shot down German planes and bombed artillery depots.

Youngblood said airmen only had a 1-in-4 chance of survival as part of the 8th Air Force, and many asked to be infantrymen because of those odds.

While the foundation's cost is $4,500 per flight hour, more than $1.5 million is spent annually just to keep the B-17, also dubbed "Flying Fortress," maintained and on tour about 50 weeks of the year. Fewer than 100 B-17 airframes exist, and fewer than 15 are capable of flying. Four B-17s actually appeared in the "Memphis Belle" film, according to Youngblood.

While some may wonder whatever happened to the original "Memphis Belle," its fate is as astonishing as its accomplishment, according to the foundation's website.

"Memphis Belle," which flew Nov. 7, 1942, to May 17, 1943, downed eight enemy fighters, dropped more than 60 tons of bombs over Germany, France and Belgium, all while flying 148 hours and 50 minutes in combat. After the war the plane went to Altus Air Force Base, where it was consigned for $350 by the mayor of Memphis. The plane sat outdoors for about 40 years, deteriorated by weather and souvenir collectors, before it was moved to Mud Island in the Mississippi River in 1987. Still exposed to weather conditions and birds that nested inside, the plane was moved to a restoration facility in 2003. In 2004, the plane went to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, where it currently sits in a restoration hangar.

skrieg@news-sentinel.com


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