Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — CHEEKTOWAGA— Five years ago, the Liberty Foundation brought the Liberty Belle — a restored B-17 bomber — to Prior Aviation to give the Niagara Frontier residents the opportunity to experience the “Flying Fortress.”
On Monday, the second Memphis Belle carried members of the media on a sample flight on the World War II Bomber. While “Memphis Belle II,” which was built in 1945, did not see battle action, the bomber was the star of the 1990 action movie about the original Memphis Belle — a bomber that that was among the first to complete 25 combat missions.
“Comfort wasn’t the order of the day,” Steve Maher, the director of Flight Operations. “It was made to take a bomb load to the target and bring them home, hopefully.”
It was not uncommon during the war to lauch 1,000 planes at a time and one-third would not return. On one mission, the Allies could lose 3,000 people on one day.
“The carnage was great,” said pilot Bob Hill. “We owe those people a large debt of gratitude.”
Some planes that survived, like the original Memphis Belle, are in museums. The Liberty Foundation raises money to make the Memphis Belle flight worthy while keeping most everything original. The Memphis Belle is a F-Model B-17 and the Liberty Belle, was a G-model B-17.
The canvas seats fold down. The roof opens up for the top turret. A belly turret clings to the bottom of the plane. There are two waist guns, with belts full of bullets.
The visitors could not visit the tail gunner hole. He was the most vulnerable of the 10-man crew.
“It was not built for creature comforts,” said Hill. “It was a combat machine.”
The Flying Fortress was built for bomb and guns. Getting from back to front requires treading on a wood floor, hanging on nothing, and crossing 10-inch catwalk to the cockpit. Even experienced crew members bump their heads.
During the war, the bomber flew at 30,000 feet and the cabin temperature dropped to 30 and 40 degrees below zero. There is no air conditioning, but the media tour was able to enjoy air coming though the bomb bay, open windows with side guns and the turrets on top.
“Without help from the public they would be locked in museum. People want to see them in the air,” Hill said. “Hopefully it serves to inspire somebody, particularly young people. It gives a perspective of the history of aviation.”
Josh Ranney, 15, who will be a sophomore at Niagara-Wheatfield High School, was inspired. “It was amazing,” he said. “I can only imagine what it was like for the pilots, bombers and other airmen in there. They were probably only three or four years older than me, 19 or 20.”
Ranney has started flying lessons and recently flew to Nantucket, Mass. with his uncle and hopes to join the Air Force and become a pilot.
The Flying Fortress was a completely different experience. “It’s nothing like bopping around in those Cessnas,” he said.
The Liberty Foundation is offering public flights on Friday and Saturday. For information, call (918) 340-0243.