SPOKANE, Wash. - "Memphis Belle," a restored B-17 Flying Fortress that was the centerpiece to the 1990 movie of the same name starring Matthew Modine, roared into Felts Field Monday as part of a nationwide tour.
Operated by the Liberty Foundation, the B-17 was restored to look like the original "Memphis Belle," which was one of the first Flying Fortresses to survive 25 missions over Europe during World War II with its entire 10-man crew intact.
While the original Belle is undergoing extensive restoration at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, the movie Belle tours the country to help keep the legacy of the iconic bomber alive.
It's purpose is to fly from city to city and serve as a living museum and reminder of the sacrifice made by Americans during the war. Soon after the Belle rolled to stop and its big radial engines quieted, an elderly man walked up to look at the plane. Mike Kindya, 90, a member of the Greatest Generation, stopped by Felts Field to get a good look at a plane he hasn't seen in years.
During WWII Kindya was a Tech Sergeant in the Army Air Corps, and served as a top turret gunner aboard B-17s.
"We came back with 93 holes in the airplane," Kindya said, recalling one of his missions.
Kindya flew 25 missions over Europe with the 548th Bomb Squadron, and recalled one eight hour mission over Meersburg, Germany where temperatures dropped to -40 and flak exploded all around his ship.
"It's like a tin can and you could hear the holes coming in," said Kindya.
Looking at the B-17 today, the same one used in the movie, Kindya says it brings back memories, some good some bad.
"We built 12,780 some odd B-17s and over 4,000 of them went down in combat," Memphis Belle pilot John Shuttleworth said.
Each plane carried a 10-man crew; 40,000 airmen lost their lives or bailed out of their aircraft, many of them becoming POWs during World War II.
Only a handful of B-17 airframes remain, and fewer still are airworthy.
Mechanical issues kept the Memphis Belle and Kindya grounded at Felts Field Monday, but he took a few moments to recall his last mission he flew in a Fortress. His air crew flew into Holland at 200 feet off the ground, dropping food not bombs.
"They had signs out on the ground, 'Thank you Yanks. Job well done,'" he recalled.
The Liberty Foundation plans to have the Memphis Belle up in the skies over Spokane this weekend, and she will also be available for ground tours later in the afternoon on Saturday and Sunday. Click here for more information.
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