Take Flight in a Time Machine
This is what flying feels like.
I’m soaring 1800 feet above Chesapeake Bay in a plane that 70 years ago housed soldiers — and 50 years later actors.
The Liberty Foundation is touring with the Memphis Belle, a Boeing B-17 built in World War II. Restored to replicate the original Memphis Belle, it’s one of 13 B-17 still flying.
The Liberty Foundation travels from city to city, raising awareness for World War II veterans by taking visitors back in time to experience the flight.
“Most vets would keep quiet. They would just tell you that they were doing their job,” says Keith Youngblood. “But, well frankly, we all know that they did more than just their job.”
Liberty volunteers like Youngblood use plane rides to keep veterans’ stories and experiences alive, lest planes and memories die in museums. This year’s tour raises money for the B-17 Liberty Belle, which caught fire last year.
Before I could take my ride, I had to crawl through an entrance sized for oompa loompas. The green metal interior morphed into a long tunnel. In cloth-swing seat in the rear compartment I buckle up, my knees bumping the rider across the aisle.
Once soaring, passengers roam the plane freely. Still in the back, I stick my head out the large open windows that line both side of the plane. The houses look like the Polly Pocket toys I played with as a kid; wings and propellers frame the foreground of the miniature backdrop. What isn’t so Polly Pocket-esk is the large replica guns sticking out the window with ribbons of ammo hanging from their side.
I didn’t think it could get any better until I moved forward through the green tunnel interior. In the radio room, I could finally stand straight, with my head is almost out of the plane. The wind from the open turret blew my hair straight up as if I were in a vacuum. Gazing out, I saw the tail of the plane behind, Bay right below us.
But the best scene was the World War II veteran invited on the flight. Warren Dorfler, 92, who served as an engine mechanic in the Army Air Corps, hadn’t been in a B-17 since May 8, the day before the war ended in 1945. Dorfler and his fellow mechanics flew on the planes after making major repairs to make sure they were running smoothly before sending them back into combat.
Dorfler sat in the radio room, too frail to walk around his old stomping grounds, clutching the seat above him to propel him forward so he could look outside the B-17’s small windows.
“This was such a pleasant surprise,” Dorfler, all smiles, said. “I loved it. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
Like an Olympic gymnast on the balance beam or a circus performer on a trapeze, I slowly make my way across the pathway from the radio room to the nose of the plane. Putting one foot in front of the other on a strip wide enough for only one foot at a time, I keep my balance in the turbulence. Walking would have been much harder task if the plane had been filled with bombs on both sides as in wartime.
To reach the nose, I had to go still farther. After a pit stop to watch the pilots, I crawled through a space even smaller than the entry hatch.
I was Rose at the bow of the Titanic spreading her arms in the air. I was in the nose of the plane, in a bubble able to see all around me. This is what flying feels like.
As we land it hit me: I’d flown in a time machine. That’s what today’s Memphis Belle is.
The Memphis Belle makes its Baltimore flights at Martin State Airport on August 18 and 19. Thirty-minute flights in the historic plane costs $450, but the experience is priceless.
If the thought of going up in the air makes you nauseated, visit at 3pm when for free ground tours.
This B-17 was built at the end of the war and never saw combat. When it came off the assembly line, it transported staff for over a decade. On the civilian side, the plane next worked as a fire bomber to put out forest fires in the West.
In the early 1980s, a former B-17 pilot bought the plane and restored it. It was painted to replicate the original Memphis Belle that flew on countless missions with the 91st bomb group of the 8th air force. The aircraft then hit Hollywood in the 1990 film Memphis Belle.
Information and reservations: 918-340-0243; www.libertyfoundation.org.