A vintage warbird is paying a visit to Spokane. The B-17 now called the Memphis Belle is in Spokane this week. The plane took the name of the legendary WWII plane when it starred in the 1990 movie of the same name. The real Memphis Belle resides in a museum.
Current pilot John Shuttleworth says this particular B-17 has an unusual history. He says the plane has an unusual pedigree, that "it was built too late for World War two, but in 1951 it was outfitted and dropped bombs in Korea.” Shuttleworth is with the Liberty Foundation, which operates the plane, and tours it around the country.
On Monday the plane arrived at Spokanes Felts Field, and among those who came to see it was Mike Kindya, who served as a gunner aboard B-17’s in World War two. Kindya flew the required 25 missions, many of which lasted as long as eight hours, in extremely hazardous conditions, threatened by German fighter planes, and anti aircraft fire, known as flak. For Kindya, the memories were bittersweet.
He reminisces on a major mission where he was lucky to get home.
Kindya: “We came back with 93 holes in the aircraft, we had a fire in the number 3 engine coming in for a landing, but we survived.”
On a different filght, he escaped death from another threat.
Kindya: “Every ten minutes the bombardier would call an oxygen check. Pilot OK, navigator OK, engineer, that was me, no sound. And he told the radio operator go see what’s wrong with Mike, his turret's not moving it’s very still. He came up to my turret and looked at my meter, and it was zero, so he immediately plugged in my next oxygen tank and I revived.”
Not all of Kindya’s recollections were of combat. There was his last mission, in the last days of the war, when his plane took a load of food to those who had been liberated in Holland.
Kindya: “We opened the bomb bay doors, and we dumped all the food out. At 200 feet you could see people’s faces. The Dutch people. They had signs on the ground. 'Thank you Yanks, job well done.'”
This weekend you’ll have an opportunity to see an historic Boeing B-17 bomber up close. The Liberty Foundation is offering flights on the Memphis Belle for sale to the general public Saturday May 17th and Sunday May 18th at Felts Field in Spokane. You can find out more at libertyfoundation.org.