Local News

Monday, Apr 14 2014 06:54 PM

Winged warrior returns to Bakersfield

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    The World War II B-17 "Memphis Belle" is one of only 14 B-17s still flying today. Public flights and tours will be available Saturday, April 19.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    The nose and artwork of the World War II B-17 "Memphis Belle."

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Pilot and volunteer captain Bob Hill gives the B-17 "Memphis Belle" a quick look-over before taking off on a flight.

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BY RUTH BROWN Californian staff writer rbrown@bakersfield.com

When the nearly 70-year-old Boeing B-17 took flight above Bakersfield on Monday, engines rumbled and seats vibrated just as they would have in 1945.

The interior of the World War II B-17 Flying Fortress remained the same, with Army green seats, original buckles and wooden machine gun mounts.

The hatches on the floor of the plane could be seen -- doors that during wartime were opened to drop bombs.

The engines in the plane could be heard above Meadows Field Airport as the restored plane, named the Memphis Belle, took flight.

The Memphis Belle is one of only 12 B-17s that still fly today.

When the Liberty Foundation -- a nonprofit flying museum helping the community remember those in war -- took media members for a ride Monday, the windows of the plane were open, creating an uninterrupted view of the city below as people walked about the inside of the airplane.

That sound of the rumbling engine is one that American soldiers found familiar during the war, as 12,732 of the aircraft were built between 1935 and 1945.

The aircraft is painted traditional Army green with a blond, 1940s-era pinup girl decorating both sides of its nose.

The plane belongs to the Liberty Foundation and is dubbed the "Flying Fortress."

The name Flying Fortress stems from the plane's defensive firepower seen in action during World War II, according to the Liberty Foundation. The planes were primarily flown by the 8th Air Force in Europe.

Bob Hill, a volunteer pilot for the Liberty Foundation, said the organization was founded by Don Brooks when he wanted to honor his father, Elton Brooks, who flew more than 30 combat missions in B-17 planes.

Hill said the purpose of the Liberty Foundation and offering the rides is to educate the public on American history and to honor the veterans who were a part of it.

"This is our slice of history," Hill said. "...We're trying to repay our debt of gratitude."

The B-17 displayed Monday was built toward the end of the war and never saw action. It was purchased by the Military Aircraft Restoration Corp. in 1982.

In 1989, the Liberty Foundation's plane was used for the movie "Memphis Belle" in England because it is an exact replica of the original Memphis Belle, which flew many missions during the war.

The Liberty Foundation on Saturday will also be displaying a North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, which was a superb single-seat American fighter-bomber in World War II and the Korean War. Mustang pilots shot down more than 4,900 enemy aircraft in World War II.

The Liberty Foundation will be offering ticket purchases for rides in the B-17 and the P-51 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Meadows Field Airport's Epic Jet Center.

Public 45-minute rides in the B-17 cost $410 for Liberty Foundation members and $450 for non-members. A 20-minute flight in the P-51 costs $1,595 for members. Tours of the inside of the plane are free.

Reservations are not necessary but are encouraged. Call 918-340-0243 or visit www.libertyfoundation.org for more information.

Passengers can become a Liberty Foundation member for $40 and receive member discounts for family and friends.

"We get to bring a portion of the battlefield to you," Hill said.

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