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John A. Weeks III
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Aviation History And Aircraft Photography
B-17G Flying Fortress
Liberty Foundation
Douglas, GA


B-17

This B-17 was on static display at the New England Air Museum in Windsor Lock, Connecticut, for many years. The NEAM was hit by a tornado in 1979. This B-17 was seriously damaged in that storm. The B-17 was later sold to Tom Reilly. Reilly runs the Warbird Restoration School in Florida. The B-17 was slowly being restored. Reilly hoped to display the completed B-17 as the Outhouse Mouse.

At the same time this was happening, Georgia native Don Brooks was dreaming of creating a flying museum that would tour from city to city teaching WWII history to new generation of airplane fans. Mr. Brooks first chance at a B-17 was in taking part in the Greenland Expeditions that was planning to locate and recover a flight of P-38's and two B-17's off the ice cap in Greenland. It turns out that they planes had become buried under hundreds of feet of ice, and the B-17's were smashed flat.

Not one to give up, Brooks eventually talked Tom Reilly into parting with the Mouse. After a year of finish work, the Liberty Belle first took to the air again in early 2005. The photo above is from the Belle's debut at Oshkosh, where she was on display in the very center of ramp in the main display area.

The Liberty Belle was lucky to survive the 1979 tornado, but it even luckier to have lived that long. Most B-17's that survived the war were simply scrapped. A few were sold and served in the civil market. The Belle was sold for scrap, but was resold before she was actually destroyed. She was eventually bought by Pratt and Whitney, who used her as a flying engine testbed. The Belle was modified to carry a turboprop engine in her nose, making her a 5-engine aircraft.

Update—The Liberty Belle was destroyed by fire on June 13, 2011. She was in Aurora, Illinois, for a tour stop. An engine problem kept her on the ground all weekend. The engine was repaired, and the crew set off on a flight to Indianapolis. A fire started near the number two engine shortly after takeoff, but the crew could not make it back for a landing. The pilot and co-pilot, both highly experienced airline pilots, feathered the engine and set the B-17 down in a corn field in a perfect gear-down emergency landing. They could not extinguish the fire, and local fire crews could not get equipment out into the field. The fire totally consumed the aircraft. All on board exited the aircraft without incident, but one person on board had a bump on their head.

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