B-17 To BHM

It was designed to pummel the German Luftwaffe into submission, with the gnashing of teeth. Recently, history landed at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in the form of the Boeing B-17 “Madras Maiden”, which is owned and operated by the Liberty Foundation. Approximately 150 people came out to witness first hand this living piece of history. According to officials with Liberty Foundation, about 50 people paid the $450 price tag to actually fly aboard this remaining piece of history. But some will ask, why would someone pay such a price to fly on an old airplane? For some who fly aboard such aircraft, which are often available for public rides at many major airshows, there is a form of connection to the aircraft. Perhaps either they flew on the aircraft decades ago when it was in service, or maybe designed/manufactured the aircraft. For most, namely a family member had some type of experience with the aircraft, whereas as some just desire the rare experience.

Nostalgia is golden and often therapeutic. It is regarded as the most famous bomber ever built during World War II. “They’re the most famous bomber ever built, one of the more famous military planes ever built”, Ray Fowler Director of Flight Operations for Liberty Group said. “The B-17 was a 4-engine heavy bomber and did daylight bombing over Germany. It had an incredible loss of life for freedom, so over 58,000 crew members were actually shot down, missing in action, or prisoners of war in the B-17 according to Fowler. During the course of WWII 12,732 B-17’s were built. Currently only 13 are flight worthy. This is what makes the Madras Maiden such a vital part of living history.

A couple of years ago, the Birmingham Southern Museum of Flight presented a summer long tribute to the role that Alabama and Alabamians played during WWII. More than 300,000 Alabamians fought in WWII, in a host of roles either in the air, land, and high seas. It was an all Alabamian B-17 crew in the Eighth Air Force that became the first B-17 to shoot down a German plane. Piloted by Lieutenant Tom Borders, the “Birmingham Blitzkrieg” during its first sortie is credited with the kill. These significant but seemingly forgotten feats are what endears the Madras Maiden to Alabama, thus inspiring fans to come out and see a symbol of when America stood firm in the face of global tyranny.

The Liberty Foundation flies the B-17 to and from a host of cities and events. Prior to Birmingham, it flew over Montgomery the previous day, and went on to Huntsville the day after its BHM flight. The B-17 was first delivered into service in October of 1944. It is piloted by a crew of ten. What the Allied Powers needed was a heavy bomber that could penetrate deep into Germany, with a bomb load heavier and more numerous than its predecessors and break the will of Nazi Germany. It was powered by four 1,200 horsepower Wright Cyclone Model R-1820-97 engines. The engines are comprised of nine cylinder, radial, air cooled types with a 16:9 gear ratio. It operated under four, three bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propellers. The 11 feet – 7 inch diameter Hamilton Standard was the gold standard for peak performance propellers at the time.

The four engines, housed on the wings, which had a span of 103 feet, 9 inches gave the B-17 a service ceiling of 35,600, designed to fly out of reach of many of German anti-aircraft guns. With a fuel capacity of 2,780 gallons it could fly a range of 1,850 miles. It also could be fitted with bomb bay tanks to extend the standard range. But the prime objective was to put bombs on target, precisely. The name of the game was to break the back of the German resistance through strategic bombing.

The maximum load, depending on which bombs, was 8,000 pounds. If fitted with special external racks for special missions, it could carry a maximum of 17,600 pounds of bombs.

The B-17 was primarily employed by the USAAF in the daylight strategic bombing campaign of World War II against German industrial and military targets. The United States Eighth Air Force, based at airfields in central and southern England, and the Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy, complemented the RAF Bomber Command's nighttime area bombing in the Combined Bomber Offensive to help secure air superiority over the cities, factories and battlefields of Western Europe in preparation for the invasion of France in 1944. The B-17 also participated on a lesser scale in the War in the Pacific Theater, early in World War II, where it conducted raids against Japanese shipping and airfields. The B-17 dropped more bombs than any other U.S. aircraft in World War II. It is reported Of the 1.5 million tons of bombs dropped on Nazi Germany and its occupied territories by U.S. aircraft, 640,000 tons were dropped from B-17s.

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