‘Madras Maiden, flying fortress’ to visit Des Moines

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO The “Madras Maiden” World War II Boeing B-17 “flying fortress” bomber will be making a visit to Des Moines International Airport on June 25 and will be giving flying tours over the city.

DES MOINES — The “Madras Maiden” a restored World War II B-17 “flying fortress” bomber will take to the skies over Des Moines on June 19. Public flights and ground tours available on June 25.

Seventy-two years ago these aircraft flew from bases far from home in an attempt to bring freedom to oppressed people. The U.S. B-17’s mission for today is to educate the people of America about the courageous WWII veterans, and remember those brave aircrew who never made it home. “Madras Maiden” is a living museum, U.S. heritage not in mothballs or the pages of a dusty book, but real life, three dimensions, here and now. You are invited to come touch the past and fly through ageless skies.

The Liberty Foundations 2017 Salute to Veterans tour will be arriving in Des Moines at the Des Moines International Airport, 5600 Fleur Drive, on June 19 at 11 a.m. The Boeing B-17 “Madras Maiden” will be open to the public and available for flights and ground tours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on June 25. During the flight, passengers enjoy the unique opportunity of moving about the aircraft to the different combat crew positions to see the viewpoint that thousands of heroes saw in combat over 70 years ago. As the B-17 flies around town this weekend, its famous silhouette and unique sound will draw a great deal of attention.

The Liberty Foundation’s B-17 “Madras Maiden” is one of only 12 B-17’s that still fly today, The B-17 dubbed the “Flying Fortress” as a result of her defensive fire power saw action in every theater of operation during WWII. The majority of all WWII B-17’s were operated by the 8th Airforce in Europe and participated in countless missions from bases in England deep into enemy territory. There were 12,732 B-17’s produced between 1935 and 1945, of these 4,735 were lost in combat. Following WWII, the B-17 saw combat in three more wars, B-17’s saw service in Korea, Israel used them in the war of 1948 and they were even used during Vietnam.

“Madras Maiden” was built toward the end of the war and never saw any combat. It is painted in the colors of the 381st Bomb Group. The 381st BG flew 297 operational missions during the war dropping 22,000 tons of bombs. During this time they lost 131 B-17’s and downed more than 223 enemy aircraft.

The Liberty Foundation’s B-17 had an interesting postwar history. The airplane was built under contract by Lockheed-Vega in Burbank California on Oct. 17, 1944. The “Madras Maiden” spent its entire military career 1944-1959 as a research and development aircraft, also being modified to be a “Pathfinder” B-17 equipped with the H2X “Mickey” radar system and is the only “Pathfinder aircraft left in existence. Sold Surplus in 1959 to American Compressed Steel of Ohio for the sum of $5,025 then sold to Albany Building of Florida and used as a cargo transport hauling fresh produce between Florida and the Caribbean. In 1963, she was sold again and converted to a Fire Ant sprayer under contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. From 1979 through 2014, the B-17 bomber was purchased by three different Aviation Museum’s and continued to be slowly restored back to her original combat configuration. In 2016, the Liberty Foundation began to operate the “Madras Maiden” and flies today to continue the mission of honoring our veterans, educate current and future generations as to the high price of freedom and to preserve aviation history.

World War II was the single greatest challenge to freedom in the 20th Century. Through the 46 months of war, more than 300,000 American soldiers, sailors and aviators died defending the beliefs that they held dear, with many more sacrificing in other ways. These men became heroes through their struggles and came home to a grateful nation.

These stories of courage and valor need to be preserved for future generations. Estimates place the number of World War II veterans dying each day at more than 1,500. With each death, another story of courage, honor and sacrifice is lost forever. This aircraft represents that legacy of” courage and valor.”

The B-17 flight experience takes 45 minutes with approximately half hour in flight. B-17 Flights are $410 for Liberty Foundation members and $450 for non-members. Passengers can become a Liberty Foundation Member for $40 and receive the member discount for family and friends. While the cost to take a flight sounds expensive, it must be put into perspective when compared to the B-17’s operating cost. A Flying Fortress cost is more than $5,000 per flight hour. The Liberty Foundation spends more than $1,500,000 annually to keep the B-17 airworthy and out on tour.