COLUMBIA (WACH) ?? There are only a few airplanes that we remember from history class. The Kitty Hawk , (whose real name was simply the Flyer, the Enola Gaye , which you might remember dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan during World War Two, and the Memphis Belle.
For many people, when you talk about the Memphis Belle, it??s the 1990 film staring Matthew Modine and Harry Connick Jr ., which told the story of the B-17 and her crew. Although the movie recounted a composite of what a B-17 crew went through, the story and stats of the Belle were certainly Hollywood worthy.
The Memphis Belle was built in the early 1940??s by Boeing, and sent to duty in the Eighth Air Force on November of 1942. By May of 1943, the plane had become famous for being the first heavy bomber to fly 25 missions, all while returning her crew unharmed. A feat that was unheard of in the skies above Germany during WWII, where over 4,735 B-17??s never made it home.
Not only did the Memphis Belle return 25 times, during those flights, she and her crew downed eight fighters, dropped over 60 tons of bombs, and covered more than 20,000 combat miles.
The Flying Fortress, as the B-17s were dubbed, with it??s 103 foot wing span, were one of the primary heavy bombers used in the war, with over 12,700 built and delivered to US forces for use in Europe and Japan through the course of the war. The planes were used in three more wars after WWII, including Korea, the Israeli War if 1948 , and limited use in Vietnam.
Today, less than 100 B-17s exist, and only about 12 can actually still fly. One of which bears the tail ID 124485, and was the plane that movie goers spent over $27 million watching take to the sky in the film that brought the story to life.
This plane, although not the original Belle, did was used by the Air Force in several different capacities from 1945-1959. 44-83546, as she was known was then used by civilian company as a water tanker before being purchased by the Military Aircraft Restoration Corporation in 1982. The plane was restored to its wartime self, including the reinstallation of gun turrets and paint scheme. In 1989, the plane was hired to become the famous bomber for the movie.
Since then, the ??movie?? Memphis Belle has toured the country as a flying museum to honor veterans, and educate kids and adults about the high price of freedom, and over the next few days, if you look up, you just might catch a glimpse of the giant airplane above the Midlands.
The Liberty Foundation is offering flights around Columbia October 5 and 6, in the Memphis Belle, and invites the public to experience history from the inside.
It really is an amazing way to be a part of history, as there is a finite amount of time that the B-17??s will remain in the air, regardless of the restoration money spent. Eventually, they will be put into a museum on the ground.
Flights on the Memphis Belle are $450.00, which goes straight to the Foundation, however, the plane is open to the public both Saturday and Sunday afternoon, at Owens Field, to visit on the ground.
As far as the real Memphis Belle, after being decommissioned, she sat outside, slowly falling apart from the elements and the victim of theft and vandalism from 1949 until the 1980??s. Although several efforts were made to protect the B-17, it was in the early 2000??s that several agencies have taken up her cause, and continue to work on the full restoration of the Memphis Belle, which will then be put on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
If you would like more information and actually take to the air inside the Movie Memphis Belle while she is in Columbia, you can check out their website HERE.