By Brian Livingston / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
An icon of America's World War II military might will make its first visit to the Magnolia State next weekend in the form of the legendary B-17 Flying Fortress, the Memphis Belle.
The "Belle" is the big draw of The Liberty Foundation's 2013 Salute to Veterans Tour. The aircraft will be open to the public and available for flights and ground tours on Saturday and Sunday, March 9-10 at the John Bell Williams Airport, 4100 Airport Road in Jackson.
Scott Maher of The Liberty Foundation, said this is an invitation to see, tour and fly a mission thereby taking advantage of this historical experience.
"Whenever veterans who have flown in the B-17 come out to see this beautiful and awesome aircraft, tears well up in their eyes," said Maher. "We are losing 1,500 WW II veterans per day, according to the veterans administration. Soon they will be all gone but not the history they made in this aircraft."
The B-17 flight experience takes about 45 minutes with approximately half hour flight time. B-17 flights are $410 for Liberty Foundation members and $450 for non-members. Maher said he realizes the fee may sound like a great deal but it needs to be put in perspective.
"The operating cost of an aircraft such as this is very high as you can imagine," Maher said. "A Flying Fortress cost is over $4,500 per hour. The foundation spends about $1.5 million annually to keep the B-17 airworthy and out on tour."
Only about 13 B-17s are still flying after the US built over 12,500 during the war. About 4,735 Flying Fortress' were lost during combat in WW II as America joined England with an around the clock bombing campaign against Germany and in other theaters of war.
This particular aircraft was built at the end of the war and did not see action. But the original Memphis Belle has a storied history as it flew with the 91st Bomb Group of the Mighty 8th Air Force based in Bassingbourn, England. The Memphis Belle made history in becoming the first heavy bomber to complete the required 25 combat missions but she also kept the original crew alive during the entire tour.
In July 1989, this aircraft crossed the Atlantic Ocean with another B-17 to be the star of the movie, "Memphis Belle".
"This aircraft has a great deal of history and many family members who had grandfathers serve in one come out to see just the kind of heroes these men were," Maher said. "As for the veterans themselves, they couldn't tell you what they had for breakfast that morning but they can remember what they were doing inside this marvelous aircraft more than 60 years ago. It is really amazing to see and hear the stories."