Photos by Lonnie Webster
The World War II Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Madras Maiden” will take to the skies over Hickory. Public flights will begin in the morning on Saturday and Sunday, September 29-30 with ground tours in the afternoon. Hours are from 10am to 5pm. This event takes place at the Hickory Regional Airport Hickory, Aviation Museum, 3101 9th Ave. Dr. NW, Hickory, NC 28601.
BOEING B-17 “FLYING FORTRESS”
The Liberty Foundation’s B-17 “Madras Maiden” is one of only 12 B-17’s that still flies today. The B-17 dubbed the “Flying Fortress” as a result of her defensive fire power saw action in every theater of operation during WWII. The majority of all WWII B-17’s were operated by the 8th Air Force in Europe and participated in countless missions from bases in England deep into enemy territory. There were 12,732 B-17’s produced between 1935 and 1945, of these 4,735 were lost in combat. Following WWII, the B-17 saw combat in three more wars, B-17’s saw service in Korea, Israel used them in the war of 1948 and they were even used during Vietnam.
“Madras Maiden” was built toward the end of the war and never saw any combat. It is painted in the colors of the 381st Bomb Group. The 381st BG flew 297 operational missions during the war, dropping 22,000 tons of bombs. During this time they lost 131 B-17’s and downed over 223 enemy aircraft. The Liberty Foundation’s B-17 had an interesting postwar history. The airplane was built under contract by Lockheed-Vega in Burbank California on October 17th 1944. The “Madras Maiden” spent its entire military career 1944-1959 as a research and development aircraft, also being modified to be a “Pathfinder” B-17 equipped with the H2X “Mickey” radar system and is the only “Pathfinder aircraft left in existence. Sold Surplus in 1959 to American Compressed Steel of Ohio for the sum of $5,025.00 then sold to Albany Building of Florida and used as a cargo transport hauling fresh produce between Florida and the Caribbean. In 1963 she was sold again and converted to a Fire Ant sprayer under contract with the US Department of Agriculture. From 1979 through 2014 The B-17 bomber was purchased by three different Aviation Museum’s and continued to be slowly restored back to her original combat configuration. In 2016 The Liberty Foundation began to operate the “Madras Maiden” and flies today to continue our mission of honoring our veterans, educate current and future generations as to the high price of freedom and to preserve our aviation history.
The Liberty Foundation’s B-17 provides visitors the opportunity to take a step back in time and gain respect for the men and women who gave so much to protect our freedoms. At each stop, flight “missions” are available in the “Madras Maiden” which allow people to take flights in this historic aircraft. During flight operations, there will be a designated, secure area for those who would like to watch the aircraft flights at no charge. For enthusiasts that choose to take a flight experience on this legendary aircraft, these participants receive a pre-flight safety briefing containing the historical significance of the aircraft and a spectacular scenic air tour around the city. During the flight, passengers enjoy the unique opportunity of moving about the aircraft to the different combat crew positions to see the viewpoint that thousands of our heroes saw in combat over 70 years ago.
World War II was the single greatest challenge to freedom in the 20th Century. Through the 46 months of war, over 300,000 American soldiers, sailors and aviators died defending the beliefs that they held dear, with many more sacrificing in other ways. These men became our heroes through their struggles and came home to a grateful nation. Over the half century since, those heroes became our husbands, uncles, fathers and grandfathers; in many cases their stories were never shared with their families. Now with the popularity of movies and books such as Don Miller’s “Masters of the Air” and Adam Makos’ “A Higher Call,” families are seeking to learn more about our veterans. They realize that these stories of courage and valor need to be preserved for future generations. Estimates place the number of World War II veterans dying each day at over 1,500. With each death, another story of courage, honor and sacrifice is lost forever. This aircraft represents that legacy of courage and valor.”
The B-17 flight experience takes 45 minutes with approximately half hour in flight. B-17 Flights are $410 for Liberty Foundation members and $450 for non-members. Passengers can become a Liberty Foundation Member for $40 and receive the member discount for family and friends. While the cost to take a flight sounds expensive, it must be put into perspective when compared to the B-17’s operating cost. A Flying Fortress cost is over $5,000 per flight hour. The Liberty Foundation spends over $1,500,000 annually to keep the B-17 airworthy and out on tour.
The Liberty Foundation is a 501(c) (3) non-profit flying museum and funds generated merely help offset these high cost. Only the public’s interest and other generous donations keep this historic aircraft flying and from being silenced permanently in a museum for years to come. Hopefully, for years to come!