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A Flight With the Greatest Generation: The B-17 Comes to Indy

How you can fly on a bomber and help keep it in the air this weekend

Ashley Fowler and Madyson McGill contributed to this report.

FISHERS, Ind.--It's very loud inside a B-17 bomber. The flights that those planes made in World War II were also very cold. If you can imagine, for a moment, the many dangers that came with being a part of one of those bomber squadrons, then maybe you can, in a small way, conjure up what it was like.

More than imagine

But, you can do more than just imagine this weekend. You can fly in a B-17 bomber called the "Madras Maiden". The Liberty Foundation's Salute to Veterans Tour is bringing that plane to the Indy Metropolitan Airport for flights Saturday and Sunday.

You can reserve a flight by calling 918-340-0243. The flights are $450 for people who are not members of The Liberty Foundation.

TO TAKE A B-17 FLIGHT

  • You can reserve a flight by calling 918-340-0243.
  • Flights are $450 for non-members of the Liberty Foundation
  • www.liberty foundation.org

One of the "Greatest Generation"

Technical Sgt. James Lee Hutchinson was a member of a B-17 flight crew in World War II, serving as a radio operator. He served in 20 missions over Germany and was based in Eye, England, and Monday he flew with a group that included two members of the 93 WIBC news crew.

"Forty below zero at 25,000 ft. You're on oxygen. So, you had a dozen ways to die. Your oxygen mask could freeze up, you could get hit by flak or you could freeze to death," he said. The plane is not insulated and there is a large open hatch at the top.

"We had little heated suits, so we'd plug into a rheostat. If that gets shot out or if your oxygen gets shot out, you've got to move quickly some place else," he said. "There were heavy losses because flak would just tear through that aluminum like paper. You could make it back, but you'd have wounded on board."

And they did lose people on some of the missions on which he flew.

"We lost the ball turret gunner and the waist gunner lost his eye," said Hutchinson. The ball turret gunner sits in a ball at the bottom of the plane.

"The planes with wounded would fire a red flare and they'd get to go in first. And we had medics and ambulances always on stand-by."

Meet the B-17

There were over 12,000 B-17 bombers made for service in World War II. Over 4,000 were shot down. The "Madras Maiden" didn't have a name in the war. It was a trainer aircraft and went into service spraying crops in Alabama before it was purchased in 1970 by someone who wanted it to serve again as the symbol of the sacrifice of the "Greatest Generation" that it is.

It is one of 12 B-17s that are still air worthy. The money people pay for the flights helps raise the one and a half million dollars it takes to operate it each year. That cost includes upkeep and fuel, which is particularly expensive.

PHOTOS: Chris Davis and Ashley Fowler/Emmis

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