Top of the Morning, May 14, 2014

Top of the Morning, May 14, 2014

A mammoth B-17 has been parked between Flightstar and the Institute of Aviation in Savoy since about 10 a.m. Monday. Perhaps you heard it arrive.

"If it is a quiet day, you may be able to hear the rumble of the B-17 engines as far as 5 miles out," said Kristy Busse, manager at Air Tours.

Those engines will rev again at 10 a.m. Friday when the Flying Fortress takes off on the first of 12 scheduled flights this weekend. For a little more than $400, you can ride along for a bird's-eye view of the area and catch up on some history, too.

"It is the machine that changed the outcome of (World War II)," Busse said.

Here's more on the B-17 — one of 13 in action — courtesy Busse with an assist from B-17 expert George Daubner.

— A "Flying Fortress" indeed: It checked in at 24,000 pounds (empty) with a bomb load capacity of 8,000 pounds. It employed a crew of 10 and had a range of about 1,850 miles.

— While the B-17 isn't as big as a football field, it has done plenty of NFL flyovers. Other postwar jobs included search-and-rescue missions for the U.S. Coast Guard and the spraying of fire ants in southeast United States.

— No wonder it's so famous.

"Our very own B-17 has been visited by Harrison Ford," Busse said. "And was featured in a segment on 'Pawn Stars' a few years ago."

— Early on, however, flying the B-17 wasn't so glamorous.

As far as returning safely from a mission, "in the beginning of the war, the odds were bleak," Busse said. "The Luftwaffe was at full strength, and on any given mission, a B-17 crew had a 40 percent chance of coming home. The life expectancy of a B-17 crew was roughly 12 missions. The famous pictures you see of B-17 crews by the nose were actually called morgue photos because they were losing crews so fast it was difficult to track down who was on what aircraft. The image of the full crew in front of the nose art of the airplane was a simple way to record and follow up and see which men were on aircraft that were lost."

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