Licking County News

History takes flight with B-17 visit to Bolton

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

This was one ride not built for comfort.

This plane's cabin is not pressurized and has no insulation, crew members have to cram and crouch to move about and the loudness of the engines makes communication without headphones difficult.

"The B-17 was built to conduct stable bombing runs," said Ray Fowler of the Liberty Foundation. "And it did that job very well."

The Boeing B17-F bomber was nicknamed the Flying Fortress because in addition to its payload, it carried 13 .50-caliber machine guns to resist enemy fighters.

It is considered one of the most famous bombers of World War II. The four-engine plane, which operated in all theaters of the war but was mainly used in Europe, dropped 640,036 tons of bombs on European targets in daylight raids

In all, 12,732 B-17s were built between 1935 and 1945. Of those, 4,735 were lost in combat.

During the weekend of July 12, the Liberty Foundation brought a functional B-17 to Bolton Field Airport in Columbus and offered the public chances to ride in the legendary craft for $450 a ticket.

For those who couldn't afford a ticket, the foundation accepted donations for ground tours of the plane.

Fowler, chief pilot of the foundation, said operating costs of the program are $4,000 an hour. The bomber burns fuel at a rate of 200 gallons an hour, he said.

Donations and tickets, Fowler said, are what keep this piece of history alive today for people to experience.

The B-17 used by the Liberty Foundation is one of only 12 such aircraft still capable of flight, and like the other surviving B-17s, it was never used in combat, having been produced near the end of the war. It's named "The Movie" Memphis Belle because it was used in the 1990 movie Memphis Belle, a fictionalization of the 25th and final mission of the famed bomber.

"The combat scenes were authentic," Mike Pohorilla said of the movie. "The rest of it was hokey."

The original Memphis Belle is now being restored in Dayton. It was the first of the bombers to complete its required 25 missions in Europe and return to the U.S.

Pohorilla, a Canal Winchester resident, served during World War II as a first lieutenant on a Flying Fortress after he enlisted in 1942.

"My office was up front," he said. "I was a navigator ... I could stand up and wave to the pilot."

Each B-17 was manned by a crew of 10.

"We were all young," Pohorilla said. "Our age ranged from 18 to 22."

On the day of a mission, Pohorilla said, crew members would wake up around 4 or 5 a.m. and after breakfast and a briefing, take off between 6:30 and 7 a.m.

"We sweated takeoff more than anything," he said.

The plane's fuel was kept in the wings, and if a tire blew out, the fuel tanks could rupture and explore.

In the air, missions typically took between seven and eight hours, Pohorilla said. At an altitude of 10,000 feet or more, airmen needed to wear oxygen masks. The bombers usually flew at about 25,000 feet, where the outside temperatures required the crew to wear heated suits.

The crews would return to base in the afternoon and be debriefed.

"Then we'd all line up in front of the flight surgeon and give him our name, rank and serial number," Pohorilla said. "He'd give us a double shot of Kentucky bourbon for medicinal purposes."

Dave Lyon, along with Fowler, pilots the B-17, which he said is going back to the "grassroots of flying."

"There's no power control," Lyon said. "It's all muscle power. ... You're doing stuff people did 70, 80 years ago. It's a thrill."

Touring with the B-17 also gives Lyon a chance meet veterans who share all kinds of stories, some hair-raising, some funny.

"It kind of gets to you," he said.

For more information about the Liberty Foundation and a schedule of the bomber's visits, visit libertyfoundation.org or call 918-340-0243.

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