It was a time when the world was at war, and it was necessary to have a plane dubbed the "Flying Fortress" patroling the air. In April of 1944, 16 B-17's were being built every day. A total of 12,732 of them were made during World War II, but today only 13 remain.
This week, one of those machines will be here in Buffalo.
The "Movie" Memphis Belle B-17 will host public flights on August 3rd and 4th. The plane was painted in the colors of the original "Memphis Belle" to be used in the filming of the 1990 movie Memphis Belle. Built near the end of the war, the plane did not see any combat, but that doesn't make the aircraft any less authentic.
"The great thing about going flying in the airplane instead of seeing it in a museum... is that it makes everything tangible" said John Ferguson, a volunteer pilot of the B-17. "When you see a documentary or see photos in a book of a B-17 in combat, when you actually have been up in one it engages more senses. You can think 'I know what that guy was seeing.'"
What you see from the inside of the B-17 is something that would be hard to replicate. It is unlike any other plane that most people have been in. Creature comforts like wide aisles and soundproof windows are replaced by wood planks and open-air machine gun mounts. Without insulation, passangers can hear the full roar of the B-17's four engines and feel the air in the cabin get cooler with every foot it climbs.
"It would be 30 degrees below zero, or forty below, depending on the weather" said Richard Notebaert, a World War II veteran who flew 50 missions in a B-17, his flight in the "Movie" Memphis Belle on Monday was unofficially his 51st. Notebaert said that the temperatures in high altitudes could be so extreme it would become hard for piltos to move their fingers.
People flying in the B-17 this week will have a much easier flight than Notebaert did 70 years ago.
"We would come home with a lot of flak holes. In one of our missions, three of our gunners got Purple Hearts" Notebaert said. "It was so long ago, I dont have many memories" Notebaert added. "I think the saddest memory that I have was when we were on a bombing run, and the B-17 in front of us got a direct hit from the 88's (a Nazi anti-aircraft weapon that was fired from the ground). This airplane got a direct hit. The wings fell off. The engines fell off. As we went by it, a parachute was falling down with nobody in it, so one guy didn't have time to hook it on."
Stories like Notebaert's were not uncommon, 4,735 B-17 aircrafts were lost in combat during World War II. Despite this, Ferguson says that B-17s were known for their ruggedness. "It had a reputation for getting to the target, and getting its crew back" said Ferguson. "The photographs you can see of the level of damage on some of these aircrafts and they still flew home was amazing."
Passangers flying on the B-17 this weekend will not have to worry about being under enemy fire, or even sub-zero degree temperatures. Instead, they can sit back, enjoy the flight, and absorb the history that's in the cabin walls. Or better yet, sit up and stick your head out of the cabin to get a view of Buffalo's skyline you wouldn't be able to see any place else.
The "Movie" Memphis Belle will fly out of Prior Aviation on 50 North Airport Dr. on Saturday and Sunday August 3rd and 4th. Tickets are $450 per person for a flight, but opportunities to tour the plane on land will be available for free.