Historic B- 17 Flying Fortress comes to Columbus

Columbus, GA (WLTZ) –  A rare site is taking place in the skies over Columbus as a piece of history from World War II takes flight, teaching the current generation about the sacrifices of the greatest generation.

There are only 13 operational B-17 ‘Flying Fortress’ bombers left on the planet.  And of that number only 10 have flown in the last year and even fewer are open for public flight. And Columbus will be home to the Memphis Belle, for this weekend at least.

“They made just under 13 thousand of these aircraft, and to think we couldn’t even make a squadron if we gathered them altogether in one spot is pretty incredible.” says Keith Youngblood with the Liberty Foundation. The Foundation is responsible for the Memphis Belle, which they now use as more of a ‘Flying Museum’ than ‘Flying Fortress’.

“It’s actually flown all over the globe.” Youngblood adds,  “Its been to Japan, its been to Europe multiple times and obviously its been all over the United States. So a pretty busy airframe its whole life. “

This B-17 served in multiple roles throughout its lifetime including as a firefighting plane, used to combat wildfires. The plane never saw combat but now it takes its name in honor of the Memphis Belle, the only bomber to survive 25 combat missions and keep her entire crew alive during World War II.

There were more than 12 thousand ‘Flying Fortresses’ built between 1935 and 1945 and more than a third of them were lost in combat.

But what made the B-17 famous were the brave 10 man aircrews who flew the Fortress in hundreds of missions dropping more than 640,000 pounds worth of bombs throughout the war.

Youngblood recounts some of this conversations with bomber veterans, “These guys will flat out say, ‘We thought we were gonna die tomorrow,’ But they did their jobs and took care of their business. They didn’t want to let any of their other crew-members down.”

And one local man has a unique perspective on the B-17, Dequindre McGlaun who flew on 25 combat missions between May 1943 and January 1944.   The Chattahoochee county native was a lead bombardier, in the 94th Bomb Group, 333rd Squadron, 8th Air Force.

 McGlaun saw first hand how the plane managed to keep her crews alive, when his plane was shot down over the North Sea after a bombing mission over mainland Europe.

He says he tried to keep his mind  on the mission, because the success or failure of any mission was often in the bombardier’s hands.

“You can imagine what my thoughts were,” McGlaun recalled,  “Everything depended on that mission with what I did with that bomb sight. Because if I didn’t hit that target I’d risk a lot of lives for nothing.”

The Flying Fortress was also unique because of its ability to defend.  Among the 10 man crew, five of them manned machine gun turrets to take down enemy planes.  B-17 crews shot down 23 enemy aircraft for every 1,000 raids, the most amongst all U-S bombers.

And now the Memphis Belle is here keeping the story of the B-17 and the crews who flew her alive for the next generation.

“You know you can stand at Gettysburg and see the landscape and kind of see how the battle played out.” Youngblood explained, “You can do the same thing at Omaha Beach.  But these guys, their battlefield is in the skies over Europe somewhere, and you can’t revisit it.  So its really important that these guys are not forgotten.”

The Liberty Foundation, the group whose mission it is to maintain the Memphis Belle, will be here  this Saturday, November 1st at the Columbus Airport.

Flights are 10 am to PM every hour on the hour.   Ground tours are from 2:30 to 6:30 each day. Anyone seeking info can call (918)-340-0243 or visit www.libertyfoundation.org.