John Hess, a volunteer pilot with Liberty Foundation, talks about flying the B-17 flying fortress. Maxwell Gersh, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Military history buffs and aviation enthusiasts will have the opportunity to get up close and personal and airborne if they choose with two flying pieces of history this weekend.
The Liberty Foundation brought two operational, World War II-era aircraft, a B-17 bomber and a P-51 Mustang, to Olive Branch. Both will be available for the public to tour on the ground and take flights in Saturday and Sunday at theOlive Branch Airport.
Pilot John Hess said he hoped people would visit the planes to gain a deeper understanding of what World War II veterans endured during their service. He said he hoped the experience would inspire people to listen to and learn from veterans.
Our mission is to honor our veterans and to thank them and to show you what they were doing, he said.
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Of the 16 million Americans who served in some capacity during World War II, only about 558,000 are still alive, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. An estimated 372 World War II veterans die each day.
As those veterans die, many of their stories go with them, and the collective memory of the war fades. Thats where the planes come in, Hess said. They provide younger generations with a way to learn about veterans experiences and can be cathartic conversation starters for veterans.
The view from the nose of a B-17 Flying Fortress on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, at the Olive Branch airport in Miss.(Photo: Max Gersh / The Commercial Appeal)
The Liberty Foundations P-51 Mustang was built in Australia in 1944 and participated in atomic bomb testing conducted by the Australians after World War II.
The B-17 available for tours and flights, named Ye Old Pub, was built in 1944 and was in service at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base during the war but never saw combat. After the war, it was used in Georgia to disperse a chemical concoction meant to kill fire ants before being acquired by the Liberty Foundation.
John Hess (left) and Jim Lawrence fly a B-17 Flying Fortress on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, from the Olive Branch airport in Miss.(Photo: Max Gersh / The Commercial Appeal)
Pilot Jim Lawrence said more than 12,000 B-17s were built and about 5,000 were lost in combat in World War II. Today, there are 11 still flying. A B-17 operated by the Collings Foundation crashed in Connecticut earlier this month, killing seven people.
Hess said The Liberty Foundation had been in communication with the Federal Aviation Administration and the National TransportationSafety Board regarding the crash. He said mechanics with The Liberty Foundation did frequent inspections and maintenance on the planes and if there were any problems, members of the public would not fly.
Both pilots described flying the B-17 as amazing, both because of its history and for its feel when flying, though its definitely not for amateur pilots. All the planes controls are manual a safety feature, so automated systems couldnt fail in combat and Hess likened it to driving an old car without power steering. Lawrence was slightly more descriptive.
Its like a monkey making love to a football to get this thing started, he said.
A B-17 Flying Fortress sits on the tarmac Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, at the Olive Branch airport in Miss.(Photo: Max Gersh / The Commercial Appeal)
All joking aside, Lawrence said he hopes seeing the plane or flying in itwill make people consider the price of freedom.
Those guys had an 80 percentchance of not coming back, he said of B-17 crews. And they still went out there every time.
Corinne Kennedy is a reporter for The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached via email at Corinne.Kennedy@CommercialAppeal.com or on Twitter @CorinneSKennedy.
Where: Olive Branch Airport, 8000 Terminal Drive in Olive Branch
When: Oct. 19 and 20
Cost: $475 per person for a 30-minute B-17 flight; $1,195 or $1,995 for a 10- or 20-minute P-51 flight, respectively. Ground tours are free.
Details: Call678-589-7433 for times and to book a ride
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