OLIVE BRANCH, Miss.--A piece of history is available for you to not only touch, but to actually get in and fly. A B-17 bomber, the one used in the 1990 movie Memphis Belle, will take the public up and over the Memphis area this Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day.
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News Mississippi got a special sneak preview flight Monday. We got on board about 2 p.m. and flew over the east Memphis and north Mississippi area. We were allowed to go into the cockpit in-flight, which involved walking over a very narrow truss over the bomb bay doors.
Before being strapped in to the actual World War II bomber, built in 1945 and now privately-owned, we were able to talk with Tech Sergeant Dick Eastman, a former pilot with the 8th Air Force. He flew on D-Day and told us he got credit for shooting down a German aircraft.
"I know I hit it because with the type of ammunition that we used, you could see the bullets going into the aircraft," he said.
As far as the experience of continuously flying eight to nine-hour missions, Eastman told us it was very cold.
"There was no heat in that aircraft, no insulation. We wore a flight suit that was plugged into a rhiostat where you could adjust the heat," he said. Eastman told us the flight suit had heating coils built in, but with the actual outside temperature, combined with the speed of the plane, it wouldn't be a good idea to put your tongue on the metal, ala A Christmas Story.
He also acknowledged that technological advancements have made way for less risk of life and limb for pilots.
"I don't think it would be desireable for anybody that thinks much of their life to get that close to 12 aeroplanes that have seven or eight fifty calibers aimin' at you," he said.
The News Mississippi report:
John Ferguson, a volunteer pilot with the Liberty Foundation, told us it's veterans like Eastman that are the reason for the B-17 tour.
"Our goal is sort of a treveling outreach," he said. "What we do is spread the word about all the World War II veterans. Obviously we're focused on the 8th Air Force and the flyers and what they did for us in World War II."
The flights are $450 per person and the money goes to the Liberty Foundation, for support of veterans causes.
HD Video by Camie Crowe