(Updated June 15th, 2011 @ 1:00 PM) The Liberty Foundation’s B-17 “Liberty Belle” force-landed and burned in a field southeast of Aurora Municipal Airport, IL, this morning. The seven on board were able to exit the aircraft with no serious injuries but the aircraft was heavily damaged by fire.
Shortly after take-off, the pilot reported fire on board and that he could not make it back to Aurora and was going to land in a field. Although the crew was able to carry a successful wheels-down landing, the fire could not be stopped and most of the fuselage was destroyed.
Thanks to Coert Munk, who has posted a link to a statement by the Liberty Foundation’s chief pilot Ray Fowler. The statement gives more precisions about what actually happened and is much more reliable than what can be found from other online sources.
About “Liberty Belle”:
The B-17G (SN 44-85734) did not see combat in World War II, and was originally sold on June 25, 1947 as scrap to Esperado Mining Co. of Altus, OK; it was then sold again later that year for $2,700 to Pratt & Whitney, who operated the B-17 from November 19, 1947 to 1967 as a heavily modified test bed for their P&W T34 turboprop engine under the registration N5111N. Similar to registration numbers 44-85747 and 44-85813, it became a five-engined aircraft, having the prototype engine mounted on the nose. The aircraft was flown single-engine, with all four radial engines feathered during test flights. Following these flights, it was donated to the Connecticut Aeronautical Historic Association, where a tornado on October 3, 1979 blew another aircraft onto the B-17’s mid-section, breaking the fuselage.
The B-17 was eventually purchased by aviation enthusiast Don Brooks, who formed the Liberty Foundation to exhibit the plane as the “Liberty Belle.” Restoration began in 1992 with parts from another damaged B-17 (44-85813), performed by Tom Reilly and company/Flying Tigers Warbird Restoration Museum (aka “Bombertown USA”), located at that time at Kissimmee Gateway field Kissimmee, Florida. She returned to the air on December 8, 2004, and had been touring the air show circuit since then. The Liberty Foundation also planned an historic overseas tour in July 2008 along the northern ferry route to England. (Wikipedia)