WWII aircraft visit Buffalo

Jul 18, 2012

The B-17 "Flying Fortress," which belongs to the Liberty Foundation, is on a national tour of more than 40 cities in what it calls a Salute to Veterans. 

This particular plane was built toward the end of World War II and never saw any combat, but has been painted in the colors of the original Memphis Belle that flew countless missions with the 91st bomb group of the 8th Airforce.  It was the first B-17 to complete 25 missions, something pilot Bob Hill says was unheard of. 

Many of the planes and thousands of crew members were lost during the war.

"We lost 4,735 B-17's in combat.  Each B-17 had a compliment of ten crewmembers...but it was not uncommon in 1944 for us to launch a thousand planes at one point in time and one third of them would not return, so on one mission you easily lose 3,000 people," Hill said.

The B-17 was designed for one thing: combat.  There are gun turrets on the top and the belly of the plane.  Gunners were also positioned in the glass nose of the aircraft and in the tail, which were among the most vulnerable positions for the ten-member crew.  Others manned the bomb doors and waist guns located along the sides the plane.  

Hill says the plane has been completely restored and was featured in the movie "Memphis Belle."  He says it is one of a handful of B-17's still flying.

"They built 12,732 B-17's during World War II.  Right now, in the United States, I could probably put my hands on eight of them that could fly," Hill said.

Along with the B-17, the Liberty Foundation is bringing a P-40 Warhawk to town.  It's a homecoming of sorts for the single engine fighter, which is one of more than 13,000 built for Allied forces at the Curtiss-Wright Corporation's production facility in Buffalo.

The plane was involved in a landing accident in Alaska in 1941.  Instead of repairing it, the military buried the plane.  Fifty years later, collectors recovered the plane and restored it.  It returned to the skies in 2010.  

Both planes will be available for public flights and tours on Saturday and Sunday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. at Prior Aviation.   

B-17 Specifications:

Designed By:  Boeing Company

Required Crew:  Pilot, Co-pilot, Navigator, Bombardier, Flight Engineer, Radio Operator, 2 Waist Gunners, Tail Gunner and Ball Turret Gunner.

Power:  The B-17F is powered by four 1,200-horsepower engines.

Fuel Capacity:  1,700 gallons

Range:  1,850 miles

Wing Span:  103 feet, 9 inches

Length:  74 feet, 4 inches

Service Ceiling:  35,600 feet

Maximum Speed:  300 mph at 30,000 feet