Historic B-17 bomber lands in Springfield; open to tours and flights

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. A piece of American history flew into the Queen City on Monday and landed at the Springfield-Branson National Airport in front of an awestruck gathering.

The fully restored B-17 bomber will be open for public tours from Tuesday, June 21, to Sunday, June 26, from 9 am to 5 pm.

Boeing manufactured more than 12,000 of the silver birds for combat during World War II; today there are only 10 airworthy B-17s remaining. "So this airplane flew in the Pacific; it did aerial mapping and it also hauled a life raft," explained pilot Larry Perkins.

The living history flights immerse passengers with the sights, sounds, smell and feel of being in the footsteps our brave, young airmen.

The lessons leave a lasting impression. "It's crazy to think about the guys that were on the plane and everything they sacrificed to be on it," said Erica Hawkins, who flew on the B-17.

That praise, said Perkins, is well earned for this model of bomber and the men who flew. Perkins explained it played one of the most important roles in the war. "This airplane really won the war. The B-17, believe it or not, is the type aircraft that shot down the most enemy aircraft in WWII," he said.

Perkins and all the other volunteers are part of the Commemorative Air Force, a private, non-profit group, which maintains the plane known as "Sentimental Journey."

They fly to cities all over the country to teach history so that, as Perkins put it, "we don't relive it."

Sometimes, though, the lessons of today come from people who actually lived through the history, or from their wives who were waiting at home during the war. Perkins said about 15 years ago, a pilot's wife came to see the plane with one request.

"She wanted to sit in the pilot's seat because that's where her husband had sat and he was killed in WWII," Perkins recalled. "And 50 years later, this lady is still carrying a torch for this man-- very touching."

The B-17 bomber is at the General Aviation terminal on the east side of the airport, north of the west end of Kearney Street (Missouri 744).

Visitors can also scheduled a ride in the plane for a fee. The number to call is 602-448-9415, or send an email to: b17rc@azcaf.org to make that arrangement.