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Flights of freedom

World War II bomber takes some nostalgic people into the sky.

March 17, 2010|By Melanie Hicken

War veterans and U.S. history buffs filled a dirt lot bordering Bob Hope Airport this weekend to get a glimpse of a restored World War II B-17 bomber.

More than 120 people signed up for a chance to take a 30-minute ride on a bomber named “Liberty Belle,” one of 14 remaining B-17s to still fly today. The rides cost about $400.

“I figure it’s probably one of those once-in-a-lifetime kind of deals,” Burbank resident Don Fukumoto said Saturday, shortly before boarding the bomber with his two brothers and stepfather.

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Others came simply to watch the plane take off or tour its inside. The event was part of a 50-city tour organized by the Liberty Foundation, a nonprofit museum dedicated to preserving wartime and aviation history.

Scott Maher, director of operations for the Liberty Foundation, said the tour is aimed at giving people a glimpse at an important time in the nation’s history.

“It just gives people an opportunity to go back in time,” he said.

Many World War II veterans came out this weekend to take a ride on the bomber, or to simply reminisce with fellow veterans.

“I love to be around it,” said veteran Charles Stevens, who was a B-17 bombardier, the crew member responsible for releasing the aircraft’s bombs. “I liked the plane the first time I saw it, and I still like it.”

The Liberty Belle was made in 1945 in Burbank by Lockheed, which produced one quarter of Boeing’s B-17 fleet, but never saw any combat. After changing hands several times and enduring years of neglect, including a run-in with a tornado, the plane was acquired by the Liberty Foundation in 2000 and underwent restoration to its wartime configuration.

For veteran Don Hassig, the yellow and gray plane brought back a flood of memories.

“It’s painted exactly like the airplane I flew for 21 missions,” he said.

On the bomber’s last mission, it was shot down over Europe and destroyed, Hassig said. He was not injured, but two of the plane’s nine-person team were killed.

Burbank resident Mary Coleman has volunteered with the Liberty Foundation for several years. She said she does everything from cleaning the inside of the plane to pushing the propellers to get it going.

“This is an important part of our history,” she said. “It’s terribly important that it stays alive.”

Those who rode the plane said there is nothing like the rush of being aboard the restored bomber.

“You get such a deeper appreciation of what the men did on their missions,” Coleman said.


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