Originally created 11/10/05

Historic bomber visits Augusta

Augustans will hear a very rare kind of Liberty Belle sounding over the area this weekend.

An Oklahoma-based nonprofit organization will be offering flights aboard a recently restored World War II B-17 bomber that is one of only 14 in working order today.

Don Brooks, founder of the Liberty Foundation, said besides the Garden City, the historic plane will travel to nearly 50 other locations in coming months.

"The idea is to honor our veterans, and we also want to help educate future generations to the high price of freedom," he said. "It helps keep the memory of what they did alive."

Mr. Brooks said his father flew B-17s with the 390th bomb group during World War II, so ever since he took to the skies he's dreamed of finding and restoring a B-17.

As luck would have it, an aviation enthusiast in Florida recovered the Liberty Belle after it was heavily damaged in a tornado during the late 1980s, and sold it to Mr. Brooks in 1992.

It was at that time that Mr. Brooks created the Liberty Foundation as a means to fix and showcase the rare bird.

Prior to the accident, the Liberty Belle flew many missions during World War II yet never saw combat.

The task of repairing the aircraft took 80,000 man-hours, dozens of volunteers and millions of dollars until it was ready to take to the skies last year, Mr. Brooks said.

"Now nearly every rivet is like brand new," he explained. "We're hoping next year to get it back to England, where most of its flight time was logged."

Since the aircraft began traveling the country, the crew has stopped as far west as Arizona and as far north as Maine. Tour flights last 30 to 45 minutes and carry a very heavy price tag - nearly $400 per person.

"It costs us $3,500 an hour to fly these, so it's strictly to pay the bills," Mr. Brooks said of the cost to fliers. "It's a lot of money, but I've never seen anybody who didn't say it was great."

Ray Fowler, who is piloting the plane during its national tour, called the B-17 "one of the airplanes that got everything right."

"It's very distinctive," he said. "Everywhere we go people come running to see it fly overhead. Anybody who knows anything about airplanes recognizes its sound."

Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or dena.levitz@augustachronicle.com.

What is a B-17?

Dubbed the "Flying Fortress" for its defensive firepower, the legendary bomber saw action in nearly every operation during World War II. The majority of all World War II B-17s participated in missions from bases in England. Between 1935 and 1945, more than 12,000 were produced, but today there are just 14 operational B-17s in the world. The aircraft itself is about 75 feet long, holds 1,700 gallons of fuel and can weigh up to 65,000 pounds and reach speeds of 300 mph.

Source: The Liberty Foundation

If You Go

What: Public rides on the Liberty Belle World War II B-17

Where: Augusta Regional Airport

When: Friday and Saturday beginning at 8 a.m. and continuing every hour on the hour as requested

Cost: $355 for Liberty Foundation members and $395 for nonmembers; Anyone can also take a look at the plane after the flights by making a small donation to the Liberty Foundation

Reservations: Call (918) 340-0243 or go to www.libertyfoundation.org. Foundation members said it's recommended that you reserve your spot because they like to fly with all seven seats filled.


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