Tonawanda News

Local News

July 31, 2013

Flying into the past

B-17 bomber tours, flights available this weekend

Tonawanda News — One of the most famous airplanes from World War II will be making a stop in Buffalo this weekend, offering a unique opportunity to touch a piece of history – and even go for a ride.

A B-17 Flying Fortress modeled after the Memphis Belle will be at Prior Aviation in Cheektowaga on Saturday and Sunday, courtesy of the Liberty Foundation’s 2013 Salute to Veterans Tour.

The aircraft will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for flights and ground tours.

“It is truly an amazing experience,” said John Ferguson, a volunteer pilot with the Liberty Foundation. “It’s a rare opportunity to experience history, and it’s also a chance to honor our veterans and thank them for all that they did for us.”

There were 12,732 B-17s produced between 1935 and 1945, including 4,735 that were lost in combat. They were also used during the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

The Liberty Foundation’s plane is one of just 13 B-17s that still fly today.

World War II marked the dawn of the emergence of air power, and the B-17 played a major role in that strategy. Called the Flying Fortress for its defensive prowess, the B-17 also packed an extraordinary offensive punch as a bomber.

Retired Army Air Force Captain Richard J. Notebaert, 93, was on hand Monday at Prior as one of the honored veterans.

The Clarence resident flew 50 combat missions in 1943 in a B-17 out of North Africa, primarily over Italy.

“Some say the B-17s were very crucial in winning the war,” Notebaert said. “But the war was fought by thousands and thousands of men and women — and if we all didn’t work together, we would have lost.”

A flight on the B-17 lasts about 30 minutes and costs $410 for Liberty Foundation members and $450 for non-members.

The cost of maintaining and operating the aircraft is $4,500 per flight hour, and the foundation spends more than $1.5 million annually to keep the B-17 airworthy and on tour.

Reservations for a flight are required and are available by calling (918) 340-0243 or at libertyfoundation.org.

Ground tours of the aircraft are free.

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