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Memphis Belle In Cleveland

Friday, August 8, 2014 at 12:34 PM

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If you spotted something over Cleveland this week that looked a bit out of place - or out of time - you're weren't imagining... There was (and is) a 70-year-old airplane in town for the weekend - offering opportunities to revisit history.... Aboard a World War Two B-17 bomber. Rick Jackson of member station WCPN took a ride for us.

Photo Gallery

Iconic art on the nose of the aircraft The 50 caliber machine gun port of the Memphis Belle Rick Jackson in the nose turret of the Memphis Belle Flying the Memphis Belle, over Lake Erie

Liftoff from Burke Lakefront Airport in a B-17 bomber is slower, choppier, and noisier than in the sleek private jets and twin engine craft it parked alongside this week… but far more satisfying.

This particular aircraft is one of only a dozen B-17’s still airworthy - and is a star in several ways… First as a war time supply plane, then later as the retro-fitted aircraft used to film the 1990 movie “Memphis Belle”, about the first B-17 AND THE 25 battle missions IT FLEW.  BADLY SHOT UP AT TIMES BUT never lose a man.

NOW.... she is a rare and visible connection to the youthful crews of the Department of the Air Force; when America went to war—in support of Europe.

Arthur Mills
("It was nice… brought back some memories.")

[Notes: engine noise under sound]
Arthur Mills was along for a preview ride this week.
Now 93, he was one of those vets who rode the B-17 into battle.
A turret gunner in the service, he made more takeoffs than landings in the Flying Fortress, being shot down over Germany in 1944 by enemy fighter planes - spending the rest of the war as a P-O-W…

At the controls for his flight this time - two volunteer pilots from the Liberty Foundation, a nonprofit flying museum. IT takes the Memphis Belle around the nation....flying 300 hours a year - for education, and nostalgia.
[Notes: engine sounds fade]

Cullen Underwood
("For me, flying the airplane, and how well it flies… it just shows how smart we were from that time period.")
Cullen Underwood flew the plane, and staunchly believes in showing ‘this’ generation, what most have never seen.
But ‘his’ thrill comes; from getting to meet the veterans. It’s emotional for him.

("Those special moments that I have are when you have the veterans that come out - and they’ve got two, three generations with them, and they’ll come to the aircraft and you’ll see them just kinda walking around - looking - and they’ll reach up and they’ll lay their hand on the airplane --- the emotions overwhelm them, because it brings back memories that are long-forgotten, or just suppressed.")

Tony Fifer
{”...it was nice… I really enjoyed it.}

Tony Fifer flew B-17’s on supply runs in the South Pacific, outside Manila.
No one was shooting at him there - but the memories were just as sharp.

{"It’s been years though since I’ve been up.... I’m 88. I know what they were going through."}

The plane flies now, as it flew then -
Bare wires everywhere, and 1940 instrumentation in the cockpit… Open side bays with 50 caliber machine guns on a swivel toward Lakewood as we flew…

Further back - was a desk with a single telegraph key, for communication back to the rear area…

There is no roof at the aircraft’s center, and no cabin pressurization - which meant B-17’s flew so close to the ground that enemy flak could, and did penetrate the non-insulated steel walls.
And on the canvas straps that served as chairs… rudimentary seat belts that ‘most’ soldiers never used.
They generally ‘stood’ for the entire six to eight hour bombing run, most with eyes peeled for enemy craft.... or—for the front turret gunner—perched beneath the feet of the pilots and looking down from the cramped plastic bubble he rode within.... guns at the ready.

You can take a free “walk through” of the Memphis Belle this weekend at Burke Lakefront Airport.
Flights are $450.
Underwood says expect the lines to be non-stop.

Additional Information

Liberty Foundation

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Community/Human Interest

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