OKLAHOMA CITY — The B-17 “Flying Fortress” flew missions deep into Nazi Germany from bases in England. The flight was cold, loud, harrowing and deadly. Only one in four crew members were expected to complete their tour of 25 missions.
“You could always tell the B-17 crews. They had to fly at 30,000 feet, but the plane was open, so the crew had to wear oxygen masks,” pilot Dave Lyon said. “The crews would have frostbite in the shape of their masks on their faces because the temperature was between minus 30 degrees and minus 60 degrees. It was not a pleasant flight.”
The “Memphis Belle” was one of the first B-17s to complete her tour. While the original Memphis Belle is in a museum in Dayton, Ohio, the only flying F-style B-17, the “Movie Memphis Belle,” offers rides to the public and at different stops around the United States. Residents can ride in the B-17 on Saturday and Sunday at Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City.
The Liberty Foundation operates the bomber as a tribute to the aircraft and their crews and to educate the public about missions flown by the hearty aircraft.
Public flights will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at a cost of $450 per person, with free ground tours presented in the afternoon.
The Liberty Foundation’s B-17 was built toward the end of the war and was never involved in any combat missions but rather was converted to a water bomber in 1960 and operated as Tanker 78 until the late 1970s.
The plane was purchased in 1982 for restoration and, although it was built as a B-17G model, it was restored to resemble a B-17F. The plane then crossed the Atlantic in 1989 after being hired to star in the movie “Memphis Belle,” when the current paint scheme was adopted.