Madras Maiden:

Liberty Foundation collecting WWII stories as it flies Saturday, Sunday

By BRIAN GRAVES Staff Writer
Posted 9/27/17

Just as the ranks of World War II veterans are diminishing, so is the number of planes which carried them into enemy territory as they fought against the evils of the Axis powers.

Especially …

This item is available in full to subscribers

Madras Maiden:

Liberty Foundation collecting WWII stories as it flies Saturday, Sunday

Posted

Just as the ranks of World War II veterans are diminishing, so is the number of planes which carried them into enemy territory as they fought against the evils of the Axis powers.

Especially notable in its service was the B-17 bomber.

There were 12,732 produced and production peaked at 16 per day in April 1944.

Today, there are about a dozen of those B-17s still flying.

One of those is paying a visit to the area, and allowing a generation twice removed to better understand the experiences of family members who stepped up to the fight.

The Liberty Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded with the purpose of honoring veterans, educating current and future generations, and preserving these historic planes.

They are offering the chance to step into the footsteps of those who bravely served within the tight confines of those planes.

The B-17s were called “Flying Fortresses” as a result of the defensive firepower used in every theatre of combat in World War II.

Out of those produced, 4,735 were lost in combat.

Although the “Madras Maiden” which is making its appearance here never actually saw combat, it’s painted in the colors of the 381st Bomb Group and bears the same inside design as those which made it to Europe during the war.

It spent its entire military career as a research and development aircraft.

But, it still brings to life what it must have been like as the nine-man crew flew their missions.

“It’s a pretty neat thing to see the airplane. It’s an amazing thing to get to fly in it,” said Keith Youngblood, a volunteer with the Liberty Foundation. “It really is kind of an assault on all of your senses. You get a non-dangerous sense of what they went through in combat.”

He also noted the plane is “probably one of the safest you will ever fly in.”

“This airplane was actually overbuilt,” he said. “That’s why it has such a mystique to it. It brought so many men home when other bombers did not have the same rigidity and toughness.”

Youngblood said most of the World War II veterans “never talk about what they did.”

“The families now are trying to figure out what did they actually do,” he said. “It’s really kind of a shame.”

Youngblood said when veterans approach the plane “it’s like they are reaching out to one of their crew members.”

“They then start to tell their stories and the families get to hear them for the first time,” he said. “That’s kind of sad, but it’s also good they are getting to finally hear them.”

Youngblood said one of the best parts of his job is hearing “some really great stories.”

“These are things you don’t see in books,” he said.

Youngblood told the story of one veteran who was a waist gunner, a machine gun operator positioned in the plane’s fuselage behind the wings, but in front of the tail gunner’s spot.

“The radio operator’s oxygen froze up, and he passed out,” he said. “It was a matter of, you had to take care of yourself. The operator would have been dead in a matter of seconds if the gunner hadn’t noticed. There is no oxygen up there at 30,000 feet.”

Youngblood also shared the story of a radio operator who, when having to bail out, had the responsibility of getting the ball turret gunner out of the ball.

“Once he got the ball turret gunner out, the found the gunner was fine physically but locked up — he was shell-shocked and couldn’t communicate or cooperate,” he said.

“After trying to snap him out of it, he essentially had to put a parachute on him and push him out of the plane. Your choice at the point is if you leave him, you know what’s going to happen to him.

“The radio operator told me to this day he does not know what happened to the gunner,” Youngblood said. “He has to live with that, but he gave the guy his best chance of survival.”

Those are only a few of what Youngblood said are the “amazing stories we have gotten to hear.”

The Liberty Foundation hopes to hear more stories as it flies around Chattanooga this Saturday and Sunday from the Wilson Air Center.

Flights will occur between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The cost is $450 for the 45-minute flight, during which passengers are allowed to go to most of the most prominent positions in the plane.

Youngblood noted the price might seem steep, but the cost of operating the plane is nearly $5,000 per hour. The Foundation spends $1.5 million per year to keep the B-17 airworthy and on tour.

“I have never heard anyone say they regretted taking this flight,” Youngblood said.

The plane will also be available for free ground tours once the daily flights have ended.

To make reservations or for more information, call 918-340-0243 or visit www.libertyfoundation.org.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

X

Print subscribers have FREE access to clevelandbanner.com by registering HERE

Non-subscribers have limited monthly access to local stories, but have options to subscribe to print, web or electronic editions by clicking HERE

We are sorry but you have reached the maximum number of free local stories for this month. If you have a website account here, please click HERE to log in for continued access.

If you are a print subscriber but do not have an account here, click HERE to create a website account to gain unlimited free access.

Non-subscribers may gain access by subscribing to any of our print or electronic subscriptions HERE