Liberty Belle (aircraft)

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The B-17 Liberty Belle about to take off from the 2005 Lumberton Celebration of Flight.
Liberty Belle, #43-38037 – B-17 of the 836th SquadronS/Sgt George R. Michael (radio operator) first on left front row was one of three men to survive (photo provided by Jim Winkelmann)
Sold as scrap on 25 June 1947; Pratt & Whitney subsequently bought B-17G 44-85734 (shown with T34 turboprop in nose) and operated it from 1947–1967 as a test aircraft.[1]
The B-17 warbird Liberty Belle at El Cajon, California March 2008

Liberty Belle was the name of several individual Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses used in combat during World War II. The first Liberty Belle B-17 (serial number 42-30096) crashed near Wakes Colne after an accidental on-board fire on 30 November 1943; while the BQ-7 Aphrodite variant (42-30039) named Liberty Belle "was hit by flak and crashed" during a mission against the Heligoland U-boat pens on 15 October 1944. Liberty Belle tail number 42-31610 and a Liberty Bell were attached to the 91st Bomb Group (Heavy), at Bassingbourne.[2][3] A third Liberty Belle (42-97849) landed in Belgium with heavy damage on 14 February 1945, during an Oil Campaign raid. A fourth Liberty Belle B-17G (43-38037), was part of the 487th "B-17 Flying Fortress Story" and involved in a mid air collision on 30 September 1944. After a sharp turn in heavy contrails, this B-17 was caught in prop wash (presumed), went over on its back and collided with Tail Number 43-38154 of the same squadron. The right wing of '38037 and the left wing of '38154 came off and both aircraft crashed at Bexterhagen, 9 km east of Bielefeld. Only 3 out of 18 men on the two aircraft survived.[4]

The combat Liberty Belles were commemorated by two B-17s which used the name, with one still remaining as a static display: Miss Liberty Belle (44-83690) is displayed at the Grissom Air Museum. The Liberty Foundation flew a composite B-17 named Liberty Belle (constructed from two damaged aircraft (non-combat 44-85734 and the rear part of 44-85813)) as a warbird from 2004 until 2011, when it was destroyed in a fire after an emergency landing.

Commemorative Liberty Belle B-17[edit]

The B-17G (SN 44-85734)[3] did not see combat in World War II, and was originally sold on 25 June 1947, as scrap to Esperado Mining Co. of Altus, Oklahoma; it was then sold again later that year for $2,700 to Pratt & Whitney, which operated the B-17 as a heavily modified test bed[1] (similar to 44-85747 and 44-85813).[5] Following these flights, it was donated to the Connecticut Aeronautical Historic Association, where a tornado on 3 October 1979, blew another aircraft onto the B-17's midsection, breaking the fuselage.

The B-17 was eventually purchased by aviation enthusiast Don Brooks, who formed the Liberty Foundation to exhibit the plane as the Liberty Belle. Restoration began in 1992 with parts from another damaged B-17 (44-85813), performed by Tom Reilly and company/Flying Tigers Warbird Restoration Museum (aka "Bombertown USA"), located at that time at Kissimmee Gateway field, Kissimmee, Florida. She returned to the air on 8 December 2004, and had been touring the air show circuit since then. The Liberty Foundation also planned an historic overseas tour in July 2008 along the northern ferry route to England.

Aircraft loss[edit]

On the morning of 13 June 2011, Liberty Belle made a forced landing in Oswego, Illinois, after taking off from Aurora Municipal Airport in Sugar Grove, Illinois. Shortly after takeoff, the pilot of a T-6 Texan chase plane informed Liberty Belle‍ '​s pilot that the B-17 inboard left wing was on fire and advised an immediate landing. The bomber landed successfully in a nearby field and the seven people aboard were able to evacuate without injury, but due to the muddy ground the fire engines could not reach it, allowing the fire to spread and destroy the plane.[6]

Liberty Belle II[edit]

The 1944 B-24J Liberty Belle II (44-41234) flew 29 combat missions[7] in the 22nd Bomb Group (33rd Bomb Squadron),[8] while the B-29 Liberty Belle II (42-94045) was shot down[9] in the first bomb raid against Balikpapan,[10] after being in Herington, Kansas, during April 1945.[11]

External media
1950 with T-34 turboprop
2001 restoration
2009 taxiing (vimeo)
2011 fire (CNN)
2011 fire (youtube)


  1. ^ a b Scott Rose, "Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Registry – A Warbirds Resource Group Site". Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  2. ^ dailies of the 324th bomb squadron, 16 July 1944
  3. ^ a b Baugher, Joseph F. (1 May 2011). "1942 USAAF Serial Numbers (42-30032 to 42-39757)". Encyclopedia of American Aircraft. Retrieved 23 May 2010. 30039 to 803rd BS(P) at [RAF] Oulton during early 1944 as radar countermeasures aircraft, fitted with Mandrel sets and nine carpet sets [for jamming]. (384th BG, 544th BS, *Liberty Belle*) to Aphrodite project and launched against U-boat pens on Heligoland 15 October 1944. In final mission, was hit by flak and crashed into sea short of target. 
  4. ^ Hauenstein, Lee. "Photo History of the 487th Bomb Group (H)". 
  5. ^ "American airplanes: Boeing A-B". 14 February 2002. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  6. ^ "Fire destroys WWII bomber in Oswego". Daily Herald. Retrieved 29 July 2011. 
  7. ^ History, Strange (29 May 2009). "Liberty Belle II | Flickr – Photo Sharing!". Flickr. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  8. ^ "1944 USAAF Serial Numbers". Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Balikpapan During World War II". Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  11. ^ Pete Weiler. "Crew 24, 61st Squadron – 39th Bomb Group (VH)". Retrieved 18 June 2012.