Monday, June 13, 2011

Vintage bomber was a casual acquaintance

The Liberty Belle was an acquaintance of mine.

She was a vintage B-17, and she and her sisters were produced in the tens of thousands to help save the world for democracy during World War II.

A few years ago, if memory serves, the Liberty Foundation brought the Liberty Belle to the Lexington Airport just in time for the Barbecue Festival, and I was determined that I was going to fly in her. But circumstances worked against me: the weather was bad on the late October afternoon set for the media flight, and when we were rescheduled for the next day, mechanical problems (a loose tail wheel, I think) kept her grounded. Well, I never did get to fly with her, but I did get to taxi on the runway with her.

Sitting pretty in a piece of history.
That memory will have to be good enough, and I fell in love with her, as I knew I would.

I also got to crawl all over her and had Dispatch photo-grapher Donnie Roberts snap a picture of me striking my Jimmy Stewart pose while I was peering out the cockpit from the pilot's seat.

She was a beautiful plane, almost artful to the discerning eye, with soft, graceful lines that camouflaged her ultimate hardscrabble purpose — she was a warrior, after all, and a bomber at that.

So Monday afternoon, when I heard the television tell me that a vintage World War II plane had crashed in a cornfield outside of Chicago, I rushed into the room to catch the news.

There she was, her fuselage burned beyond repair, remnants of her wings, engines and tail lying broken on the ground. The good news is that all those on board survived and apparently walked away from the crash. But it was a sad sight to see (here).

I figured the Liberty Belle still did her job today, though. B-17s were reportedly beloved by their crews for the planes' seemingly uncanny ability to come back home with unbelievable battle damage that likely would have brought down other aircraft (see here). Perceived survivability was an essential ingredient in the folklore of the B-17. Survivability apparently came into play today. Nearly 70 years later, you have to think: what a plane.

There are only few of these B-17s left, maybe 12 or 13 that are still flyable, and perhaps 53 or so that are not flying but hamming it up in museums.

There's a part of me that wonders whether or not the Liberty Belle still can be restored. Most of my friends are walking around reconstructed without their original parts these days, so why can't the Liberty Belle? But I suspect she is beyond repair.

So, I'll just heave a heavy sigh and be thankful for the time we had together.

1 comment:

  1. What a sad loss for the history of those who served.