Photos by Ariana Gastelum.
It’s one thing to see a static plane in a World War II museum, but there’s nothing like listening to its loud engines, feeling it lift off the ground and experiencing it from the sky to fully appreciate its inspiring history.
The Liberty Foundation 2017 Salute to Veterans Tour is providing the public the opportunity to take flight this weekend over Los Angeles in “Madras Maiden,” a restored World War II Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, one of only eight B-17s in existence that are capable of flying today.
During the 30-minute flight, the B-17 will reach approximately 450 feet while soaring more than 100 miles per hour. Passengers will be able to move around the historic approximately 74-foot long aircraft to see multiple viewpoints in the different combat crew positions beyond its middle region, the waist, including the cockpit, the ball turret and the rooftop opening.
Madras Maiden, formerly known as “Chuckie” was leased by Erickson Aircraft Collection in Madras, Oregon to give public tours all over the country. The aircraft has only been flown for air shows since its restoration, and this weekend is the first time it will be available for the public’s enjoyment.
Madras Maiden was built for the 381st Bomb Group, which flew 297 operational missions during the war and dropped around 22,000 tons of bombs.
The B-17 bomber was built toward the end of the war and never encountered any combat. It spent its military career as a research and development aircraft from 1944 to 1959.
“I hope we inspire people with these airplanes,” Bob Hill, co-pilot of Madras Maiden and Liberty Foundation volunteer,” told the Post. “When we look at the whole of World War II, when we think about it, it’s one of the most transformative experiences. There will never be anything again like it, and there will never be anything like the air war that existed over fortress Europe during that time period.”
On Monday, Madras Maiden flew veteran flight nurse Nancy Kahn and World War II veteran Henry Cervantes, co-pilot of “E-Z Goin,” a B-17 that got rammed by a German Me 109 fighter while on a mission to Buchan in April 1945.
Before taking off, Cervantes recalled the story of the Buchan mission. With the tail almost completely severed off, the radios malfunctioning and one of the engines no longer operating after the major collision, he and pilot Joe Martin pursued their assigned target.
From left: co-pilot Dave Lyon, veteran flight nurse Nancy Kahn and World War II veteran Henry Cervantes.
“We had no idea what the condition of the airplane was,” Cervantes said. “We just knew the airplane wanted to fly, so we kept it flying.”
After they successfully dropped the bombs, they made their way back to their base in England, using the directional gyro, the only functioning piece of equipment on the plane, according to Cervantes.
“We just knew the plane was going to break in half if the tail went out, but it didn’t,” he said. “Neither one of us went back to look at the damage.[...]I think we were half afraid of what we would see and half afraid we wouldn’t know how to control it.”
In two and a half years, 26,000 soldiers were killed and 100,000 were wounded in the Eighth Air Force in Europe, according to Hill. For missions like Buchan’s, there was a 77 percent chance of not returning home.
“Unlike a battlefield on the ground, the World War II battlefield, you can go visit that,” Hill said. “You can never visit the air where a battle occurred in the sky. It’s gone. Gentleman like Hank [Henry] are a treasure to share those experiences with us and hopefully inspire all of us as well.”
The B-17 flight experience is $410 for Liberty Foundation members and $450 for non-members. This helps fund the B-17’s operating cost, which is more than $5,000 per flight hour. Liberty Foundation spends more than $1.5 million annually to keep the B-17 airworthy and on-tour.
There will also be ground tours, which include entering the aircraft as well as a designated area for watching the aircraft flights at no charge. Public flights will be held Saturday and Sunday, starting at 10:00AM, and ground tours will be held in the afternoon ending at 5:00PM.
Find more information and book a flight here.
Flights are held at Ross Aviation FBO located at 3250 Airflite Way.