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By Kit FitzSimons

The Unbearable Lightness of Boeing

By Kit FitzSimons Posted August 28, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Sixth Week:

Sitting in the Cockpit of a B-17 Bomber

There are, I admit, some perks to being in media. The first is I have near constant access to professional recording equipment for those times I feel like recording a rap. The second is that I know what Art Chansky’s going to be controversial about before anybody else** does. And the third is that, every once in a while, I get Media Access to a special event.

It’s how I got to go to opening night of PlayMakers’ Noises Off last season. It’s how I had an all-access pass to the Town of Chapel Hill’s Fourth of July Ceremony***. And it’s how today I wound up in Sanford at the Raleigh Executive Jetport for The Liberty Foundation’s Media Day at the B-17 Bomber, Memphis Belle.



Lots of bombs dropped,
Lots of Nazis downed,
Lots of gams shown.

Actually, let’s be clear here: this is not THE Memphis Belle, made famous by the 1990 movie starring Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, and a pre-Disney’s-Hercules Tate Donovan. No, this is “The Movie Memphis Belle” made famous by playing Memphis Belle IN the 1990 movie. Oh, AND it’s actually a Borate Bomber converted INTO a B-17 Bomber for the film because there aren’t enough B-17s left in the world for Hollywood to get their hands on****. Also, they’ve done extensive repairs to keep it well-maintained and flying.

It’s the old Ship of Theseus dilemma: if you replace all the parts of something, is it the same as the original*****?

It certainly felt like it; I got to climb all over that plane (and you know how I like to climb on things), and it was awesome. First off, The Gun Show:

No, sorry. Wrong picture. The Gun Show:


Nose Turrets: Not just street slang for cursing when you sneeze

 

Sperry Ball Turrets: They do all the comedy work for me.


Genuinely adorable.

And that’s not even HALF of the gunner positions onboard; there’s a reason the B-17 was called The Flying Fortress. In WWII, each plane housed 13 Browning M-2 .50 caliber machine guns and could hold up to 8000 pounds of bombs. That number rose to 17,600 pounds of bombs if they fitted the plane with a special external rack.


Yes, exactly like that.
(Photo credit: mightyjabba.com)

I came THIS close to actually getting to fly in “The Movie Memphis Belle,” but we got grounded at the last second by a mechanical hiccup. The flight crew takes no chances******.

It’s actually fine; a single flight would have cost them over $1200 in fuel (at 200 gallons guzzled an hour, Belle’s really knocking them back), plus maintenance, flight staff, and other operating costs, totalling over $4500 an hour. It’s situations like this that are WHY they invented the phrase “Do you think you could chip in for gas?



My tour guide doing the B-17 equivalent of “Try cranking the engine, man.”

So, yes, it would have been cool, but I’m sure there’ll be another chance…!

OH, THAT’S RIGHT. THERE IS.

The local public flights are this Saturday and Sunday, September 1 & 2, 2012.
THIS WEEKEND ONLY!
at Raleigh Executive Jetport (700 Rod Sullivan Rd, Sanford, NC)
Flights run every 45 minutes starting at 9AM, going until Noon,
Ground Tours in the afternoon after the flights are over.
For more information and to reserve a spot, call (918) 340-0243

Now, you’re not media*******, so there is a charge. And it is a rather sizeable amount: $450.

Remember though:
1) they’re operating at a loss for that price,
2) this is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,
3) The Liberty Foundation is a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit, so all donations are 100% tax deductible,
4) as my tour guide, Ray Fowler, said, “It’s better than putting it in a museum.”



Ray Fowler, the anti-Indiana Jones.
(Photo Credit: SP Murray)

I highly recommend checking out the public flights and tours (you can tour without flying if you’re strapped for cash) this weekend, if only to get a chance to climb around inside a piece of history…and snag your own shot like this:

** Sometimes including Art Chansky.
*** Includes two drink tickets, early entry and elevator privileges. Additional responsibilities may apply.
**** Of the 12,700 built in WWII, there are now only 12 left. Not funny. Just factual.
***** Or in this case, the original replica?
****** This is one of those sentences you’d like to think you could take for granted.
******* Ahem.

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