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World War II aircraft lands in Tennessee

By SINCLAIRE SPARKMAN | The Lebanon Democrat | Published: October 11, 2017

SMYRNA, Tenn. (Tribune News Service -- The skies over Middle Tennessee filled with the roar of the Madras Maiden on Monday as the 73-year-old Boeing B-17 aircraft landed at the Smyrna Airport.

Of the 12,732 B-17 aircrafts built during World War II, only eight remain in flying condition in the U.S. Most were destroyed during the war, and many of the remaining B-17s do not fly. The Liberty Foundation leased the Madras Maiden in 2016 after three aviation museums had restored it to its original combat configuration.

The fighter plane boasts 13 Browning M-2 .50-caliber machine guns with a fire rate of about 13 rounds per second. The guns now are demilitarized and do not fire, but they remain fully loaded on the plane. A B-17 could also hold a short-range bomb load that could go as high as 17,600 pounds if fitted with special external racks.

The cockpit is situated above the front firing position, which currently allows a great view from the front of plane.

The Maiden was modified into a pathfinder aircraft one month after it was built in October 1944. It was equipped with an H2X "Mickey" radar system in place of the ball turret on the belly of the plane, and spent its days as a training vessel doing various weather research projects throughout its military career.

Of the B-17s that were modified into pathfinder aircrafts, the Madras Maiden is the only one that remains in existence.

After the Maiden was dropped as surplus, it carried cargo like fresh produce before it was converted into a fire ant sprayer under contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 1979, William Hospers, of Fort Worth, Texas, bought the aircraft and started restoring it back to its original combat configuration. In 2010, it was sold to Training Services in Virginia Beach, Virginia and began to fly in airshows.

Three years later, the Erickson Collection of Madras, Oregon bought the aircraft and completed restorations, including painting it the colors of the 381st Bomb Group and the nose art. The Liberty Foundation leased the Maiden in 2016 to begin flying tours for the purpose of World War II education and to honor its veterans.

"It's a trip back in time," said Bob Hill, a volunteer pilot who flies the Madras Maiden. "It was different on the ground. You can visit the place that those things transpired, but you can never return to a battlefield in the sky. The closest thing you can get is to visit something like this, the flying museum."

Hill, who has logged more than 1,700 hours flying the B-17, will pilot the aircraft Saturday. He said people often bring photographs of family members who fought during World War II, or even bring ashes to scatter during the flight.

(c) 2017 The Lebanon Democrat. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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