On June 13, 2011, flames from the left wing forced the Liberty Belle to set down in a cornfield near Chicago. Fortunately, the seven people aboard were uninjured, but the Belle won't fly again. The Liberty Foundation has posted information about that day, the events leading up to the flight, the pilot, and the Belle.
The Liberty Belle visited Colorado just a few weeks before her forced landing, and on a gray, overcast day we stepped aboard. Engine number three didn't want to run and the low ceiling had already kept us waiting for over three hours, but finally, we rumbled down the runway and took off. After she leveled, we were allowed to leave our seats in the radio compartment and wander the plane, though the tail gunner's position was off-limits and the ball turret remained closed.
We went forward first, across the narrow beam bisecting the bomb bay, to look over the pilots' shoulders. Then, on hands and knees, we scooted beneath the flight deck to the clear nose turret where the Norden bombsight still held vigil. A few minutes later we headed back to inspect the staggered waist gunner's compartment where clear plexi-glass provided ample views of the foothills to the west and plains to the east.
Every moment of the flight was cold, noisy, and exhilarating. About thirty minutes later, we enjoyed a very smooth landing.
May 15, 2011 was an extraordinary day - one we won't soon forget. Would we fly in the Belle again if she'd survived the crash? Absolutely. Flying in that lovely old B-17 Flying Fort was an honor.