Experiencing the ‘Flying Fortress’

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO The restored World War II bomber, a B-17G, arrived in Des Moines on June 19 to allow media and press representatives access to the plane, to interview the crew, and take a 30-minute flight over downtown Des Moines. It was an honor to be able to accomplish this task. This aircraft and it many model variants were produced between 1935-45. This plane was in production when the war ended in 1945 so it never saw combat duty.

Editor’s note: Outdoors columnist and photographer Garry Brandenburg was invited to get an up close and personal view of the B-17G aircraft named the “Madras Maiden.”

Father’s Day was last weekend. But you do not need to wait an entire year to give a gift to your father, grandfather, uncle or cousin who at one time long ago may have been part of an aircrew or ground maintenance team for a B-17 Flying Fortress.

This Sunday at Des Moines Signature Air’s general aviation building, you can visit and get a close up and personal view inside and out of this flying museum. It now pays tribute to the brave men and women who designed it, flew it, kept it flying, and for some who paid the ultimate price, died in it during World War II. Ground tours are free. Rides will be offered by the Liberty Foundation for $450 per seat. If flying in a B-17 is on your or loved ones bucket list, take the time to travel to Des Moines this Sunday. You will never regret having taken this rare opportunity.

Veterans who were air crew or ground crew team members typically have a multitude of memories come rushing back when touching, viewing or riding in a B-17. If the veteran starts to relate about those past experiences, be ready to take precise and careful notes and listen to what he or she says. WWII veterans ranks are getting thinner by the day as they pass away. For those left to carry on the memories and honor their military service, we need to do our part.

What a privilege to be allowed to participate in an experience of a lifetime, a ride in a B-17G named “Madras Maiden.” A big thank you to the Times-Republican for making the arrangements for me to travel to Des Moines earlier this week. My photographs help tell the story of what made this aircraft a true fighting machine.

The B-17 is also called the “Flying Fortress” because of it many machine gun stations that helped protect a formation flight of bombers from enemy fighter planes. Lots of Fortresses were built, over 12,000, and about one-third were lost when shot down by flak, enemy fighters, bad weather, or mechanical problems. However the B-17 was also known for being able to maintain flight when severely damaged. Many a crew member was able to live to tell the story because this plane’s designers built it strong.

Today, this B-17 of which 12 are still flying, is leased to the Liberty Foundation to continue an educational mission. It was built by Lockheed-Vega in Burbank, Calif., on Oct. 17, 1944. Because WWII was nearing an end, the plane was assigned to the flight research branch of Wright Field (Ohio) and modified as a “Pathfinder” equipped with the H2X “Mickey” radar system. It never saw combat. Its total military career was a research and development aircraft. Now restored, it tours the country and honors veterans.

Please take a veteran to Des Moines this Sunday. Let the aircraft help tell the stories that need to be told. Let the aircraft kindle memories that may soon be lost. Get a firsthand account of the dedication and bravery during WWII that helped defeat enemy forces. Give a Father’s Day gift that will live forever in captured comments, renewed memories and photographs taken in front of a Flying Fortress.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.