Tribute to B-17 “Liberty Belle”

On June 13, 2011 the B-17 “Libert Belle”  made an Emergency Landing after suffering an engine fire. News is that everyone aboard got off safely!! The Airframe was a total loss. Only a bunt out fuselage and a section of the wing  and tail, is all that remain of this once proud symbol of American air power. A sad day for the warbird community…….

The B-17G (SN 44-85734)[2] did not see combat in World War II, and was originally sold on June 25, 1947 as scrap to Esperado Mining Co. of Altus, OK, it sold again later that year to Pratt & Whitney for $2,700. Pratt & Whitney operated the B-17 from November 19, 1947 to 1967 as a heavily modified test bed for their P&W T34 turboprop engine under the registration N-5111N [3]. Similar to registration numbers 44-85747 and 44-85813 [4], it became a “5-engine aircraft”, having the powerful prototype engine mounted on the nose. The aircraft was flown “single-engine,” with all four radial engines feathered during test flights.

Following the test flights, it was donated to the Connecticut Aeronautical Historic Association, where a tornado on October 3, 1979 blew another aircraft onto the B-17’s mid-section, breaking the fuselage. B-17 44-85734 was eventually purchased by aviation enthusiast Don Brooks, who formed the Liberty Foundation to exhibit the plane as the “Liberty Belle.” Restoration began in 1992 with parts from another damaged B-17 (44-85813). Restoration by Tom Reilly and company/Flying Tigers Warbird Restoration Museum (aka “Bombertown USA”) located at that time at Kissimmee Gateway field Kissimmee, Florida. Evidence of the rebuild may be seen in very professional stringer splices aft of the waist gun positions. She returned to the air December 8, 2004, and has been touring the air show circuit since then. The Liberty Foundation also planned a historic overseas tour in July 2008 along the northern ferry route to England.

Whats the story behind Liberty Belle?? On September 9, 1944 the 390th Bomb Group attacked a target in Dusseldorf, Germany and suffered its second largest single mission loss of the war. Over the target just prior to bomb release, one of the low squadron B-17s was hit in the Bomb bay by flak. The 1000 lb. bombs exploded and nine of the twelve aircraft in the squadron were instantly destroyed or knocked out of formation. Six of the nine went down over the target, one flew two hours on a single engine and landed at Paris, another “crippled plane” landed in Belgium and the other struggled back to its home base and landed long after the other thirty nine B-17s had returned from the mission.The one that came home was “Liberty Belle”, she went on to complete 64 combat missions before being salvaged on February 18, 1945.

The Liberty Foundation’s B-17G (SN 44-85734) has an interesting post-war history. Originally sold on June 25, 1947 as scrap to Esperado Mining Co. of Altus, OK, it sold again later that year to Pratt & Whitney for $2,700. Pratt & Whitney operated the B-17 from November 19, 1947 to 1967 as a heavily modified test bed for their P&W T-34 and T-64 turboprop engines. It became a “5-engine aircraft”, having the powerful prototype engine mounted on the nose! The aircraft was flown “single-engine”, with all four radial engines feathered during test flights.

Following this life as a test platform, it was donated in the late 1960s to the Connecticut Aeronautical Historic Association in East Hartford. Unfortunately, it was heavily damaged in 1979 while at the CAHA’s Bradley Air Museum in Windsor Locks, CT. On October 3, 1979 a tornado caused another aircraft to be thrown onto the B-17’s mid-section, breaking the fuselage. The wreck was stored in the New England Air Museum, CT from 1981 until 1987.

From the page  http://www.libertyfoundation.org/history-libertybelle.html

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Joe Kates

Joe Kates is the founder of Photorecon. Joe has been into aviation since he was a child and has a incredible amount of knowledge to do with planes or aviation in general. Today Joe is the owner and Managing Editor of Photorecon.

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