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Indy's Photography Blog

My B-17 flight, B&W photojournalistic style

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On Sept. 4th, 2010, the Liberty Belle B-17 Flying Fortress made a stop in Amarillo, Texas, as part of it's annual tour around the United States. I, being a former US Navy aircrewman, was extremely excited at the prospect of being able to fly on this amazing piece of machinery. It's a dream I've had for years, ever since I had seen the original "Memphis Belle" B-17 on static display in Memphis, Tennessee, while stationed there with the Navy in 1986.

When I first arrived at the airport, there were quite a few people there who had come just to watch the Liberty Belle in flight. I paid for my flight (I was lucky enough to get the second to last seat of the day), and waited for my time to come. There would be eight of us on the flight, each as excited as the next for it to happen.

By today's standards, it's not a very big aircraft. By 1941 standards, it was a very large aircraft. We entered the aircraft through the aft door, which wasn't very big, and made our ways to one of the available seats onboard. I found myself sitting on the right side of the aircraft, next to where the radio operator would have been stationed.

We buckled in, and I turned around to look towards the back of the aircraft. In the aft cabin were three people; a middle aged man and his son, and, just aft of the left-side gunner's position, an older gentleman whom I later found out had been a door gunner on the B-17 during WWII.

Right after takeoff, the pilot gave us the thumbs up to unbuckle and walk around the aircraft. I immediately headed forward, as I wanted to check out the bombadier's position. After I had crawled through the tunnel underneath the pilot and the co-pilot to reach the front of the aircraft, I was greeted with a magnificent view of Palo Duro Canyon, which is situated about 20 miles south of Amarillo.

I spent some time up in the nose taking photos and just enjoying the view. It's not everyday that you get to fly on a 65 year old WWII era bomber.

I started to wander back towards the back of the aircraft and decided that I wanted a shot from out the top of the aircraft. The weather was perfect on that September day, and the crew had left the top hatch above the radio operator's spot off for the flight. Wrapping my leg around the bottom of a nearby seat to anchor myself, I stuck my head out the top and snapped a few shots. It was hard to keep steady; there were a lot of little bumps happening to keep things interesting.

After getting the rush of a lifetime for a few moments, I brought myself back into the cabin and headed towards the back of the aircraft. It was then when I realized that this flight was much more important than the thrill I had experienced. This was a flight that had meaning to one individual, who had endured and seen more than most. He had been at that gunner's position from takeoff, and that's where he remained throughout the flight. He was lost in his memories, thinking of God only knows.

That's when it struck me as to why organizations such as the Liberty Belle Foundation do what they do. It's so men like this who fought for our freedoms have a chance to be thanked by all of us, and have the means to fly again. It's a flight I'll never forget, but not for the reasons I thought prior to that day.

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