Special Flight Shared on Both Sides of the Pond
By Chris Henry, EAA Membership Services Representative, EAA Lifetime 41434
Editor's note: The following story is about an event that took place at Chelveston, England, and EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2013 - at the same moment!
On the morning of August 3, 2013, EAA's B-17, Aluminum Overcast, launched into the skies over EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. It had done so many times throughout the preceding week, but this flight was different. At the radio room table sat a few pieces of twisted metal and a few patches from the 305th Bomb Group. To the average passenger, it might have appeared as just an ordinary display of artifacts - someone may even call the metal fragments scrap or garbage. But in fact it was from the wreckage of the World War II Flying Fortress Miss Liberty Belle.
She was a B-17 assigned to the 305th Bomb Group based in Chelveston, England, from which it flew 65 missions. Along the way it had some close calls, such as the time a fragmentation bomb hit the wing, leaving pieces of explosive material in the wing as the crew flew her home.
On the 66th mission Miss Liberty Belle took a flak hit over the target but stayed with the group and dropped her bombs on target. On the way home, crewmen were forced to shut down an engine. While on final approach to the base, another B-17 below them fired flares, signaling there were wounded aboard. The crew of MLB decided to go around and let the other B-17 land first. While doing this, they lost another engine.
The pilot, Capt. Barnett, tried to restart the No. 4 engine. While all this was going on, they realized they were heading toward the town of Chelveston. In the middle of the town stood a church steeple. Throughout their stay there they had become friendly with a lot of the folks that lived in this town, and that church had been there since the 1800s. Capt. Barnett put full power to the good engine and stood the "Fort" almost all the way up on one wing.
He managed to miss the town before the aircraft stalled and crashed, coming to rest upside down. The many civilians in town rushed to the crash site and pulled two of the crew to safety, but sadly seven of the nine airmen aboard didn't make it.
Today the crash site is a memorial. There is a stone with a depiction of the aircraft as well as the airmen's names and date of the event. A flag also flies over the site. Each year on August 3, the town conducts a service there including laying a wreath on the stone. People gather to pay their respects to the brave crew, and a bugler plays "Taps" at the end of the ceremony.
The story of Miss Liberty Belle and her crew is still largely told and remembered there. This year EAA was able to help. At the very same time the wreath was placed at the memorial, EAA's Aluminum Overcast carried aboard pieces of the aircraft recovered from the site. For the first time in nearly 70 years, pieces of MLB were airborne once again.
We also had squadron patches as well as a flag that had been actually flown over the crash site. To top it off, 305th Bomb Group veteran Doug Ward went along with us. He remembered that day and was honored to play a part in this event.
For the first time, this brave crew was recognized not only for where it was based at during the war, but also for where it was from: the place the crew was fighting to preserve. I am humbled to have received the privilege to participate in this special flight, and thanks to Sean Elliott, George Daubner, and the entire EAA Flight Ops staff for helping make the flight happen.