On Saturday and Sunday, February 27 and 28, up in the skies of East County, residents could see a WWII-era B-17 bomber soaring overhead. The nonprofit Liberty Foundation out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, brought its Liberty Belle bomber to Gillespie Field in El Cajon.
The public could take a 30-minute flight for $430 per person. The cost was said to only cover the expense of flying the plane and the four-person crew to San Diego. Two hundred gallons of fuel are used during every hour of flight time.
Once in the air, passengers were free to walk around the aircraft, across the catwalk over the bomb-bay doors and into the cockpit. They could also crawl under the cockpit into the forward gunner’s seat or stick their heads out the open canopy in the center of the plane.
This B-17 was built toward the end of the war and never saw combat. Sold as scrap in 1947, the plane was acquired by the Liberty Foundation in 1992 after five previous owners. It was restored and painted to be an exact replica of the original Liberty Belle, which flew 69 bombing missions over Germany and lost 11 of its crew, mostly from flak explosions in mid-air. The original Liberty Belle crash-landed after being shot down over Belgium.
During the war, most B-17 pilots were under the age of 25; most of the crew was 18 or 19 years old. Of the 12,732 B-17s produced between 1935 and 1945, only 14 are flying today.
For video taken while in flight, click here.