Amazing stories

A World War II B-17 Flying Fortress has crashed near Chicago today. According to early news reports, all seven people on board walked away from the wreck. The plane was owned by a company that sells tours aboard classic military aircraft. Apparently, cartoon wheels did not come standard on these things, after all. (Via Lil' Nerdette)


  1. There’s a B-17 that comes to Burbank, CA every year. Seeing that thing over the valley is like watching a lion in flight.

  2. This is sad news. I’ve never sprung for a flight, but for $5 or so you can go on board and look around. My overwhelming impression was “You can’t send a kid up in a crate like this!” They’re incredibly spare, utilitarian machines.

  3. I took a ride in one several years ago. The first thing that gets you is how small they are. The waist gunners don’t stand back to back, but aside each other. You can easily stand in that position and touch both sides of the plane.

    They’re not as noisy as you’d think, and I recall the landing being the smoothest I’ve ever experienced of any plane I’ve been on.

    At the time, there were only 14 left that could still fly, I guess we’re down to 13 now.

  4. I just saw this plane at the Saint Paul Downtown airport.
    We flew in there when I took my neighbor’s 5 year old for his first airplane ride. Our Cessna looked mighty small parked next to the Liberty Belle.

    It was a real shame when I saw the crash on the news.

  5. I’m glad that all seven people who were on board are fine, but this is a horrible thing to have happened to such a majestic plane:

    Their website is currently down probably due to the recent flood of traffic to it.

  6. It’s sad to lose one of the few remaining flying B-17s, but it went out without killing anyone, and that’s a good thing.

    As rare and valuable as these planes are today, know that every last scrap that can safely be used to preserve another B-17, will be.

  7. OMG – I totally thought of that episode before you mentioned it.

    Fun fact – my Godmother’s husband flew in B-17s and B-24s over Europe in WWII.

  8. This crash happened not very far from where I used to live. When they were doing the flights from the Aurora airport a couple of years ago, sometimes they went directly over my house. It was a magnificent sight. I got a few good shots that I posted on flickr, but there are thousands more there posted by admirers over the years.

  9. Really too bad. I always wondered about this though – I’ve seen the WWII planes at the Planes of Fame airshow in Chino, and several other times, and knowing that crashes *do* happen, it’s got to take a lot of guts to go up in one of these things – perhaps not as much as it took to go into combat in one, but similar ;)

    They’re worth millions even for the non-famous planes, and the B-17 always holds a special place in the hearts of aviation fans for various reasons.

    I didn’t fly in one, but got a private tour once as a kid. I still proudly have a “I toured a B-17” (paraphrased) sticker from that at my parents’ house.

  10. Re that photo:

    that’s what you get when you build a plane out of rolling papers. :/

    Snark aside .. glad those guys are OK. It’s very sad and a big loss. I saw a B-17 when it came to our muni airport a few years back, accompanied by a B-24. What a sight. The engine sound is so distinctive and evocative, doubly so, I would imagine, for anyone who heard them back when they were being used as intended.

    Look, Mummy, there’s an airplane up in the sky.

    1. Remember though, the modern airline industry owes its existence (in physical terms it is made of of large aluminium airplanes) to the aluminium smelters and and hydroelectric plants needed to run them, which were built during WWII in order to build B-17’s out of such paper thin metal.

      And now we build some of the planes from carbon fiber, another technology developed to build a different generation of military aircraft.

      We lost some living history today, but I am so glad to see no lives were lost.

  11. For fellow airplane nerds playing at home, “Liberty Belle” appears to be a B-17G. A sad loss, to be sure.

  12. Last fall I was kayaking in NY Harbor, just south of Liberty Island, when what was likely this B-17 flew over. I was transfixed, and tried to imagine myself transported back in time 66 years, when the sky was full of these birds and the long gone Jersey City docks were stacked with ships full of soldiers and supplies, all on their way to Normandy.

    That plane was a flying symbol of a country united and sacrificing for the common good, not scrabbling to see who can get the most while giving the least, while throwing the weakest under the bus. Now the plane is as gone as that country….

  13. My dad flew as a waist gunner in B-17s in WWII. The percentage of planes that didn’t return from each mission was shocking…and these young men flew mission after mission. I need to see about taking one of the flights while I still can. Last time I checked, it was around $400.

  14. “12,731 B-17s were built – 50 are left in the world and 12 are still airworthy.”

    It sadly seems that that factoid, taken from this very interesting page:

    …shall need to be updated.

    The same source advises that the Eighth US Army Air Force alone lost 4,754 B-17s during WW 2 in the European Theatre of operations from all causes.

    And a few more numbers to contemplate:

    “Total American Air Force losses worldwide during World War II: 27,694 aircraft, including 8,314 heavy bombers, 1,623 medium and light bombers, and 8,481 fighters as destroyed in combat.”

    1. Yes – if you meet someone who flew in the Army Air Force or RAF, you have met one lucky SOB. IIRC they had the highest percentage of fatalities in WWII.

      I have heard the crewmen described as ‘farm kids from Kansas’ which actually described my Godmother’s husband. He was the Engineer in his crew. I got to interview him for a school project once, and it is pretty damn remarkable how dangerous their missions were.

      A few others of note that I have learned about in my readings:

      William R. Dunn was the first American Ace of WWII. He actually joined with the Canadian RAF at first, prior to the US entering the war. Fun tidbit: he later transferred to an American unit, but was frustrated the ‘yards’ based gun sight on the American fighters. The Metric ones allowed for easier calculations when in the middle of a fight. So at one point he ripped a sight off of a Spitfire to place into his Mustang.

      The Polish 303rd Squadron – one of 16 RAF squadrons made up of exiled Polish Pilots and had the highest scoring during the Battle of Britain.

  15. The B-17 did not “crash.” It landed in a field due to an onboard fire. After rolling to a stop, the occupants exited the plane, and only then was it consumed by the flames. I’m not sure why the press calls any incident involving an airplane a “crash.”

  16. It’s a problem of semantics. In aviation terms, any forced landing away from an airfield is considered a crash landing, regardless of actual damage to the aircraft. So when aviation sources like the FAA, or just pilot / expert interviews, are used by the reporter, invariably the term “Crash Landing” comes up and is misinterpreted to various degrees.

    Clearly the B-17 didn’t CRASH in the laymen’s term (thankfully) and was expertly landed in the field, but this would definitely be considered a “crash landing” by pilots. The other variations would include Emergency landings / Forced landings which can be used interchangeably (depending on who you talk to) to describe any unexpected landing at an airfield that had to be performed. Usually related to mechanical issues, weather, unruly passengers, other problems.

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