CLARK COUNTY — In the early 1940s, the U.S. Army built just over 13,000 Boeing B-17 planes — tanks in the air that would go on to help the allies win World War II.
Known as the Flying Fortress, these aircraft were outfitted with 50-caliber guns and responsible for takedowns of roughly 58,000 enemy crew during WW II either killed in action, missing in action or as prisoners of war.
Today, there are only 12 of these planes left, 10 in the states. On Thursday I got to experience some of what our military heroes saw more than 70 years ago in flight, in a plane brought to Clark County for the weekend by the Liberty Foundation.
"This airplane was the mainstay heavy bomber of World War II in 1944, 1945," Liberty Foundation director of flight operations Ray Fowler said before takeoff. "A crew of 10 when they went and flew it was non-pressurized, it was 40 below...it's incredible to think about what they did for our freedoms."
Just after 1 p.m., our small "crew" was strapped in and ready for flight, anticipation building as the pilot checked every box to ensure we were ready.
Anticipation built as we waited to take flight, engines heating up to a thrum felt throughout the plane, the smell of fuel wafting in. We started to roll, gaining momentum and then, takeoff.
Once in the air, we were able to walk about the plane, looking out the large gun-laden cabin windows as we climbed to 1,000 feet. Beneath the cockpit, the plane's glass nose gave a 180 degree view over not enemy lines, but scenic Clark County farmland.
This particular plane did not see battle in Europe, but many of its counterparts did. What did those young men think, as they flew over unfriendly lands — were they afraid, focused?
It was hard not to be overwhelmed in the space where so many sat before, determined to do anything they had to — including the ultimate sacrifice — to protect the nation's freedoms.
This Saturday and Sunday, the public can experience both the B-17 Flying Fortress and the P-51 Mustang — the most well-known fighter plane of WW II — at the Clark Regional Airport.
Tours are available in either plane — 30-minute flights in the bomber go for $475; 10-minute flights in the fighter are $1,195. Admission helps keep the planes touring the nation, Fowler said. Members of the public can also tour the planes while grounded, at no cost.
For more information on this weekend's historic tours, call 678-589-7433 or visit FLYB17.org. The Clark Regional Airport is located at 6005 Propeller Lane in Sellersburg.