|Boeing B-17 Liberty Belle destroyed|
|Written by David Siddall|
|Tuesday, 28 June 2011 10:16|
The Liberty Foundation’s Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress, 44-85734/N390TH Liberty Belle, was destroyed by fire on June 13, shortly after making a successful emergency landing in a cornfield near Oswego, Illinois, USA. The vintage bomber, which visited the UK in 2008, had just departed from Aurora Municipal Airport and was heading for Indianapolis when the pilot of an accompanying North American T-6 spotted flames coming from the B-17’s port wing. Pilot John Hess and copilot Bud Sittic immediately shut down the number two engine and feathered the propeller before landing, undercarriage down, in the field. Remarkably, the elapsed time between the initial radio message and the B-17 coming to a halt was only 1min 40sec. The seven occupants safely exited the aircraft but, sadly, the fire could not be extinguished and the crew could only watch as the aeroplane burned out.
The B-17 was built in May 1945 and saw no military use before being acquired by Pratt & Whitney in 1947 and modified as a testbed for the company’s new XT-34 turboprop engine, which was installed in the nose. Retired in 1967, it went on show at the New England Air Museum at Bradley International Airport, Connecticut. On October 3, 1979, a tornado hit the museum and the B-17 was severely damaged. Nine years later the wreck was acquired by bomber restorer extraordinaire Tom Reilly and moved to Kissimmee, Florida, where work on a restoration to flying condition began in 1992. In March 2003 the B-17 was acquired by Don Brooks of Douglas, Georgia, owner of an automobile parts store, for his Liberty Foundation. Don’s father, Elton Brooks, had flown 34 B-17 missions as a tail gunner with the 570th Bomb Squadron, 390th Bomb Group, United States Army Air Force, from Framlingham, Suffolk. Following an 80,000hr-plus restoration the bomber flew again on December 8, 2004, when Don said, “Machines like the B-17 take on the spirit of the men who fought and died in them and maintained them, and to set that spirit free makes it all worthwhile.”
In July 2008 Liberty Belle was flown from its base at Griffin, Georgia, to the UK, where it was a star performer at the Flying Legends show at Duxford, and also made fly-bys at many former United States Army Air Force bases, including Framlingham. Don Brooks owns another bomber project, B-17G 44-83790, which was salvaged from a lake in Labrador, Canada, in September 2004.