By Joe Earle
The bright silver airplane making its temporary home at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport boasts some impressive stats: 103-foot wingspan; 4,800 horsepower; a dozen 50-caliber Browning machine guns.
OK, the machine guns aren’t real. Neither are the 500-pound bombs in the bomb bay. They’re replicas. But, otherwise the Liberty Belle, a restored World War II bomber, seems ready for action.
The non-profit Liberty Foundation, which owns and operates the Liberty Belle, a B-17 “flying fortress,” is offering to take members of the public for 45-minute flights over metro Atlanta on Feb. 13 and 14. Depending on demand, flights may be extended through Feb. 15, said Ray Fowler, chief pilot for the foundation. Flights cost $430 a person, a price Fowler said covers the $4,500-a-flight-hour cost of operating the airplane. “We spend about $1 million annually to keep it flying,” he said.
The Liberty Belle is one of 14 B-17s that still can fly, foundation spokesman Scott Maher said. The airplane was among 12,732 B-17s produced from 1935 through 1945, the foundation said in a press release. It was manufactured toward the end of World War II and never saw combat, the foundation said. The foundation bought the plane in 2000, restored it and had it flying again in 2004, Fowler said between a pair of demonstration flights above DeKalb County on Feb. 8. The foundation spent $3.5 million on the restoration, said Fowler, who piloted the plane during a 2008 flight to England.
“One day, it’ll be in a museum,” Fowler said. “But, hopefully, not any time soon.”