B-17 bomber ‘Madras Maiden’ preps for weekend visit

Between 1943 and 1945, the U.S. lost 4,145 B-17 bombers in combat over Europe.

Another 609 of the Boeing “Flying Fortresses” were lost to midair collisions or because of bad weather.

“If you were a crew member in Europe … on a B-17, you had a 77 percent chance you would not be coming home on your mission,” said Bob Hill, a volunteer B-17 pilot.

“It was absolute carnage in the sky.”

Beginning Saturday, the Liberty Foundation will bring one of the few remaining airworthy B-17s to Wichita for two days of flights and public tours.

Flights on the “Madras Maiden,” a B-17 built toward the end of World War II, will be offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at Col. James Jabara Airport, 3512 N. Webb. Free tours of the airplane will be offered after the flights, from 2:30 to 6 p.m.

The cost of the 45-minute flight is $450, or $410 with a $40 Liberty Foundation membership that can be purchased on site.

The “Madras Maiden” is one of eight B-17s that remain airworthy, out of 12,732 built.

Hill and his small crew from the Oklahoma-based foundation were at Jabara on Monday for a 20-minute media flight aboard the B-17.

Proceeds from the flights pay for the operation of the aircraft, which, according to the foundation, costs about $5,000 an hour.

The foundation is leasing the “Madras Maiden” from the Oregon-based Erickson Aircraft Collection. The Liberty Foundation was started in 2005 by Don Brooks to honor his father, a B-17 tailgunner who survived 30 combat missions.

“The tailgunner’s position was the least survivable position” on the B-17, said Hill, who has been flying B-17s for Liberty Foundation since its founding.

A Nashville, Tenn., native, Hill was also a professional pilot flying cargo and wildland firefighting missions.

He is one of eight volunteer B-17 captains for the foundation. It also has 10 volunteer co-pilots.

The foundation has two B-17s it owns and is restoring. A portion of the proceeds from the weekend flights will go toward the restorations.

Flights can be scheduled in advance by calling 918-340-0243.

For more information on the group and the airplane, go to libertyfoundation.org.

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark