Hot times aboard the Belle

CLICK HERE TO READ TUESDAY’S STORY IN THE HERALD
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT WWII VET CLAY WILSON

This wasn’t the first time I’d been in a B-17 “Flying Fortress” … As the editor for a small weekly newspaper outside of Houston, I was invited to a similar event back in 2003. Back then, it wasn’t 103 degrees on the runway when I got in the plane, and I didn’t have video back then, either.
It also wasn’t nearly as fun as it was this time around.
Herald photographer Ashley Garner and I were invited to Sanford-Lee County Regional Airport Monday to take part in a media day for the Liberty Belle — one of 14 functioning WWII era B-17 bombers in the world today — which will hold public viewings and flights at the airport Saturday and Sunday this week. Our flight took about 15 minutes (the public flights will be twice as long), and a bonus for us is we got to ride with WWII vet Clay Wilson of Sanford. The 91-year-old former B-17 tech flew 12 missions during the war before being shot down over France by German warplanes on the unlucky 13th mission. Of the 10 men aboard that plane, only he and two others survived.
For those considering heading out to the airport this weekend, you’ll be in for a treat. And for those of you who can afford the flights ($400-plus to go up), it’s certainly a memorable experience.
You’ll be allowed to walk around the plane … looking out the windows where large machine guns are placed, and you’ll be able to walk over the small bridge that goes across the bomb hatch. The center of the plane has a hole in the roof where you can stick your head out and see a 360-degree view of the world around you from thousands of feet up. The wind is ridiculous, and if you can get past the feeling that you’re about to be swept away, it’s an experience you won’t forget.
You can also walk right up to the cockpit and watch the pilots operate the behemoth of a plane, and you can crawl underneath the cockpit to the gunner’s room, a clear bubble where gunmen would sit perched firing downward at the enemies below.
It’s a thrill … there’s no other way to put it. You get an idea of not only how WWII airmen battled … but you’ll be amazed at just how “open” they were to enemy fire. Every mission had to be terrifying, and you’ll leave with a greater respect for the men who operated these flying machines.
I encourage everybody to check it out this weekend … the weather won’t be near as hot come Saturday, and even if you cannot afford the $400 flight fee, it’s neat enough to walk through it on the ground (for free).
Watch the video above to see The Herald’s report from Monday’s media day (and click on the links to read our stories). The photo below is of me in the bubble underneath the cockpit.

Billy Liggett on board the Liberty Belle B-17

Billy Liggett on board the Liberty Belle B-17

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