Next weekend at Prior Aviation, a vintage B-17 bomber will be available for the public to tour and fly aboard. WBFO's Michael Mroziak and Avery Schneider were among local news media welcomed aboard Monday for a preview flight.
The Liberty Foundation has brought the World War II era aircraft to Buffalo as part of an annual tour which makes stops in approximately 60 cities. The Madras Maiden was built in 1944. It did not participate in combat missions but, as Liberty Foundation Pilot Jim Lawrence explained, still played an instrumental part of the war effort.
"She was used as a test aircraft for the Pathfinder (H2X) radar that was being perfected to enable our bombers to hit their targets, even in bad weather," Lawrence said. "Even if the target was covered by cloud or smoke, the radar could see through and allow our guys to bomb."
On August 12 and 13, the bomber will be available to the public at Prior Aviation. Flights will be hosted, at $450 per person, during the morning hours. Maintaining the plane and hosting flights cost up to $5,000 per hour, Liberty Foundation members explained. Free afternoon ground tours will also be available. While donations will be desired, they will not be required for the ground tours.
"It is the ultimate history lesson, to get to go to those combat positions," said Liberty Foundation Pilot Ray Fowler about the tours. "The only place you can't go is the tail gunner, which we get a lot of requests for but there's no way to really get back there, and the ball turret gunner.
"But the rest of the plane, you get to go to all those positions and kind of relate to what these guys would have seen back in World War II."
Known as the "Flying Fortress," the B-17 was not necessarily an easy aircraft to walk through. To access the cockpit from the mid fuselage, one would need to walk along a thin catwalk over a bomb bay. To access the front gun turret, one needs to crawl through a tight opening and crawl under the cockpit.
Public viewings will be available from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Flights will take place in the morning, with ground-based tours occurring in the afternoon.