“Liberty Belle,” the most recently restored World War II Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, will return “home” to Kissimmee Gateway Airport where she underwent a 14-year restoration as part of tour honoring World War II veterans. Public flights on the bomber will be offered Oct. 3-4.
The B-17, one of only 14 still flying today, spent several decades parked where the Kissimmee Air Museum is today undergoing a complete restoration. It is painted in the colors and nose art of the original “Liberty Belle” B-17 that flew countless missions with the 390th bomb group of the Mighty 8th Air Force.
In 1947, the bomber, now owned by the Liberty Foundation, was sold for scrap to a mining company. It was soon sold again to Pratt & Whitney for $2,700. The company operated it until 1967 as a heavily modified test bed for its T-34 and T-64 turboprop engines, making it a five engine B-17. In 1968 it was donated to the Connecticut Aeronautical Historic society. In 1979 the B-17 was heavily damaged in a tornado that threw another airplane onto its mid-section. The wreck was stored until 1987 when acquired by an aviation enthusiast in Florida with the intent to restore the aircraft. In 1992 restoration began. In 2000 the B-17 was sold to Don Brooks of the Liberty Foundation. Brooks, whose father flew B-17’s with the 390th bomb group during World War II, founded the Liberty Foundation, a non-profit museum dedicated to preserving aviation heritage, and funded the complete restoration of the B-17. He chose to paint it as the “Liberty Belle” as a tribute to his father, who was a tailgunner in the original “Liberty Belle.” Following a 14-year restoration, the B-17 took to the skies again after 38 years on Dec. 8th 2004.
Rides are offered during the tour for $395 for Liberty Foundation members and $430 for non-members. The total flight experience takes 45 minute,s with approximately half hour in flight.
While $430 per person sounds expensive, it must be put into perspective when compared to a B-17’s operating cost, foundation officials said. The B-17 costs more than $4,500 per flight hour and the Liberty Foundation spends more than $1 million annually to keep the “Liberty Belle” airworthy and out on tour.
For more information: LibertyFoundation.org