Restored B-17 on View

Lew Lyle in the pilot's seat.
Lew Lyle in the pilot's seat.

Watch the skies. There's a piece of history literally flying overhead and on the ground this week: a B-17 Flying Fortress.

In the pilot's seat, Maj. Gen. Lew Lyle was back in time. As a commander in the Mighty 8th Air Force, he flew more B-17 missions than anyone else. His flight in the restored Liberty Belle Thursday was like a visit with an old friend.

"It is a beautiful airplane," he said. "It looks like everything in it seems brand new, but it's a grand old plane."

For members of the Mighty 8th, the memories are all too real for the plane known as the Flying Fortress.

"It took a heck of a lot of damage," said 1st Lt. Harry Gobrecht, who was a pilot. "A lot of planes got back to their bases that should have gone down, but because of the structure and durability of B-17, they got us home."

This particular plane originated at the tail end of World War II and didn't see combat action. But it was later torn apart by a hurricane in Florida after it was retired.

The Belle is one of only 14 B-17s still flying. The Liberty Foundation in Douglas restored this one to travel the country.

"We have so many veterans and families that want to come out and see what Dad or Grandpa did," said Scott Maher of the Liberty Foundation. "It's truly just an emotional event for veterans."

The B-17 is here for the Mighty 8th Air Force Heritage Museum's anniversary. Veterans say they couldn't think of a better way to celebrate.

You can tour the Liberty Belle tomorrow and Saturday at Signature Aviation at the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport. Tours are $5 per person, $10 per family, and World War II veterans get in free.

Reported by: Dal Cannady, dcannady@wtoc.com