World War II bomber takes flight over Charleston

  • Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Participants can enjoy a flight experience on a B-17 when a replica of the Memphis Belle visits the area Oct. 12 and 13. PHOTO PROVIDED

The World War II Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Memphis Belle” will take to the skies over Charleston. Public flights are Oct. 12 and 13. out of Charleston Executive Airport on John’s Island. They begin in the morning with ground tours in the afternoon. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress”

The Liberty Foundation’s B-17 “Memphis Belle” is one of only 13 B-17’s that still fly today. The B-17, dubbed the “Flying Fortress” as a result of her defensive fire power, saw action in every theater of operation during World War II. The majority of all World War II B-17’s were operated by the 8th Airforce in Europe and participated in countless missions from bases in England deep into enemy territory. There were 12,732 B-17’s produced between 1935 and 1945, of these 4,735 were lost in combat. Following World War II, the B-17 saw combat in three more wars. B-17’s saw service in Korea. Israel used them in the war of 1948 and there were even used during Vietnam.

“Memphis Belle” was built toward the end of the war and never saw any combat. It is painted in the colors and nose art of the original historic “Memphis Belle” B-17 that flew countless missions with the 91st bomb group of the mighty 8th Airforce.

The Liberty Foundation’s B-17 had an interesting postwar history. Sold as surplus to National Metals Co. of Phoenix, Ariz., for the sum of $2,687 and then sold to Fast Way Air of Long Beach, Calif., plane 44-83546 became N3703G on the U.S. civil register. In 1960, she was converted to a water bomber and operated as Tanker 78 until the late 1970s. N3703G was purchased by the Military Aircraft Restoration Corporation (MARC) in 1982. MARC, was started by David Tallichet, a wartime B-17 pilot with the 100th bomb group. He and his staff restored the B-17G to resemble a B-17F model. The restoration included reinstallation of power turrets, early tail gunners compartment, early Sperry dorsal turret recovered from a south Pacific wreck and adding a 91st BG paint scheme

In 1989, N3703G was hired for use in the filming of the Memphis Belle movie in England. In July 1989, she crossed the Atlantic with another B-17 to participate in the filming of the movie. Since returning to the U.S. N3703G has continued in the paint scheme of the “Memphis Belle”

Today’s mission

The Liberty Foundation’s B-17 provides visitors the opportunity to take a step back in time and gain respect for the men and women who gave so much to protect our freedoms. At each stop, flight “missions” are available in the Memphis Belle, which allow people to take flights in this historic aircraft.

During flight operations, there will be a designated, secure area for those who would like to watch the aircraft flights at no charge. For enthusiasts who choose to take a flight experience on this legendary aircraft, these participants receive a pre-flight safety briefing containing the historical significance of the aircraft and a spectacular scenic air tour around the city. During the flight, passengers enjoy the unique opportunity of moving about the aircraft to the different combat crew positions to see the viewpoint that thousands of heroes saw in combat more than 60 years ago.

The B-17 flight experience takes 45 minutes with approximately half hour in flight. B-17 flights are $410 for Liberty Foundation members and $450 for non-members. Passengers can become a Liberty Foundation Member for $40 and receive the member discount for family and friends. While the cost to take a flight sounds expensive, it must be put into perspective when compared to the B-17’s operating cost. A Flying Fortress cost is over $4,500 per flight hour. The Liberty Foundation spends more than $1.5 million annually to keep the B-17 airworthy and out on tour.

The Liberty Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit flying museum and funds generated merely help offset these high cost. Only the public’s interest and other generous donations keep this historic aircraft flying and from being silenced permanently in a museum for years to come.

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