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A piece of aviation history makes a stop in Renton this weekend | SLIDESHOW

History buffs and aviation buffs alike have a chance to see experience the past this weekend as the B-17 Bomber "Movie Memphis Belle" is making a stop in Renton as part of Liberty Foundation's Salute to Veterans Tour.

The bomber will be open to the public this weekend and will also be available for flights at a cost.

"Get in touch with history for a little bit," said pilot Dave Lyon during a press event earlier this week.

Lyon said the plane was a "living memorial to all veterans."

More than 12,730 B-17 bombers, known as the "Flying Fortress," were built between 1935 and 1945 and the craft's famous sillouette is forever associated with Allied bombing raids that helped bring about the end of World War II.

The plane was well known for its ability to go deep into enemy territory and stay in the air even after taking severe damage from anti-aircraft guns.

Today, only about a dozen of the crafts are still flying.

The "Movie Memphis Belle" was built in 1945 and never saw any combat. It was sold as surplus and was converted to a water bomber in 1960 to fight fires. In 1982, the plane, a B-17G model, was restored to look like a B-17F, complete with power turrets and an early-style tail gunners compartment.

In 1989, the plane was hired for use in the filming of the movie "Memphis Belle" and was painted to look like the fabled aircraft, which today resides in a museum in Ohio. After filming, the plane retained the paint scheme, though the word "movie" was added to the name on the nose to differentiate from the original.

Inside, the plane is smaller than one might expect for something called a "Flying Fortress," but there is still plenty of room to move around. Passengers are given the opportunity to explore the craft, including the nose. Additionally, part of the top of the plane come off, creating a unique experience where passengers can literally stick their head out of the top of the craft while it is flying.

Machine guns, bombs, and an old morse code communications station also help the historic feel of the plane.

Ted Gary, 89, flew 22 missions in a B-17 during the war. As part of "Snail's Snails," (named for his commander, who's last name was "Snail"), Gary and his crew would routinely spend eight or nine hours in the plane to  bomb a target and then get back to England, where the 8th Air Force, 493rd Bomber Group, 861st Bomb Squadron was based.

What did they do for eight hours at a time while on a mission?

"Looked for Germans," Gary said with a smile.

When asked if his plane was in as good shape as the one presently on tour, Gary smiled, and with the humble, knowing cool that has been a trademark of World War II veterans said "If it gets you back, it doesn't matter (what it looks like)."

The Liberty Foundation is offering flights in the "Memphis Belle" this weekend. The flights are scheduled for every hour, on the hour, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The cost is $410 for Liberty Foundation members and $450 for non-members. The 45-minute experience includes a half-hour of flight time over South King County and Seattle.

To set up a flight, call 918-340-0243.

For those who just want to see the plane, free ground tours will be available from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. both days at Pro Flight Aviation FBO, 750 W. Perimeter Rd, at the Renton Municipal Airport.

 

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