Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Flying High: My experience aboard the Memphis Belle

Posted By on Wed, Oct 24, 2012 at 3:22 PM

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A couple weeks ago, I had the chance to fly nearly 2,000 feet above the city on a replica of the legendary aircraft, the Memphis Belle. I wrote about the experience in the Memphis Flyer's Fall Fashion issue (Oct. 18-24th).

Many are familiar with the Memphis Belle, but for those who aren't, the aircraft was one of the first B-17 World War II bombers to complete 25 missions and safely return all of its crew members. When I boarded her replica, I prayed that I'd have the same fate.

My flight came courtesy of the Salute to Veterans national tour, presented by the Liberty Foundation, which began in March. The tour stops in a different city every weekend, and was developed to bring awareness to WWII veterans. According to the Liberty Foundation, more than 1,500 veterans die per day.

Since March, the Memphis Belle replica, which was used in the 1990 film "Memphis Belle," has traveled to cities such as St. Louis, Tulsa, Minneapolis, and Chicago providing rides to locals. During each stop, local veterans also come out and share their war experiences.

“My goal is to let the local veterans know not only do we appreciate the sacrifices in WWII, but we wouldn’t be sharing this history today without them,” said Scott Maher, director of operations for the Liberty Foundation and one of the Memphis Belle’s pilots. “We want [people] to come out and experience these things in its natural habitat, which is in the air. The experience gives a history lesson that’s not in the pages of a dusty book.”

The original Memphis Belle is being restored at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The replica I flew aboard was equipped with 10 seats, 13 50-caliber machine guns and bombs, and a glass nose, from which passengers can gaze down onto the city.

Flying throughout the city on the historical aircraft was something I never thought I'd have the opportunity to experience, but I'm thankful that I did.

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