America's small cache of flying vintage warbird aircraft took a hit on Monday when the B-17 Flying Fortress Liberty Belle had to make an emergency landing onto an Illinois field (the plowed kind, not the "air" kind) after a fire was spotted in one of her four engines.
Unfortunately, because of recent rainfall, the cornfield onto which the pilot expertly put her down was too soft for the heavy firefighting vehicles to traverse. After exiting the airplane, seven crew and passengers had to watch helplessly as a smallish fire in a single engine turned into a huge fire that consumed the rest of the airplane. How hard it must have been to accept that those who had the means to help save the airplane couldn't get to her. Click here for a video of the aftermath.
Vintage aircraft are expertly maintained by people who not only take pride in their work but love the old birds to boot. They have to study and be certified to work on the airplanes. They give up hours of free time to crawl into and around spaces a two-year-old would have trouble fitting into (and getting out of). They get greasy, dirty and sometimes get cuts, bruises and burns. They become frustrated when the airplane's mechanicals act their age - much as a parent does with a tired, fretful child - but always work through the problem. And they grin like fools when their multiple-ton baby's engines fire up and it taxis and takes off, thrilling anyone who witnesses its steady climb into the heavens.
Liberty Belle was just in the Twin Cities area (home of the CAF Red Tail Squadron) on June 5-6. Click here for a short photo essay from the Minneapolis Star Tribune about that visit.
Given that the crash just happened on Monday, the Liberty Foundation, based in Tulsa, understandably hasn't decided if they'll rebuild Liberty Belle. With 60+ combat missions during World War II and countless rides given in her most recent iteration as a part of flying history, she has maybe earned the right to rest. But many thousand warbird fans hope they'll again see her sail majestically overhead with four healthy engines and crewmembers grinning like fools.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.