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World War Two Bomber Visits Spokane

Laurie Jackson

An historic aircraft that is credited with being perhaps the most reliable of the World War II-era planes is paying a visit to Spokane this week.

It is an icon of the air. The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Nearly 13 thousand were built, yet only 10 remain flying today.

One is paying a visit to Spokane’s Felts Field this week.

The Madras Maiden was brought here by the Liberty Foundation, which sponsors tours to raise awareness of aviation history.

John Eads is the foundation’s mechanic. He's in charge of keeping the 73-year-old bomber in flying condition. Eads says the fact the plane is being flown regularly is actually a good thing.

“When we're operating, she is being looked at on a daily basis, so it becomes more easy to do it, because you are finding things and correcting them right away. If it's just sitting there, things tend to break if an airplane is just sitting on the ground,” says Eads.

The B-17s set the standard for a four-engine, long range, heavy bomber in World War II. The first one crashed on its first flight in 1935, killing those aboard. But Eads says that didn’t stop Boeing from proceeding with the project.

“Ran off the runway, through a barn, caught the airplane on fire. All the engineers and test pilots lost their lives. Mr. Boeing said I’ve got a mission. Make a checklist for me,” says Eads.

He says that fatal accident established the now normal checklist procedure before take off.

The ruggedness of the plane is legendary. There are numerous documented instances of B-17s returning safely to England from missions over Germany with only one engine running, the wings, tails and control surfaces torn apart by shrapnel.

The visit of a B-17 to a community brings out a lot of people interested in the plane.

Dave Morss says World War II veterans are often among those. Morss is a pilot for the Liberty Foundation.  He says the number of veterans coming out is dwindling.

“More often than not they are in a walker or a wheelchair and they ease their way out to the airplane, and they get in the door, and go up the nose and they’re running around. It’s like an instant time machine. It’s like an instant transformation to watch these guys,” says Morss.

On this visit, Spokane World War II veteran Joe Delay went on a flight on the Madras Maiden. Although he didn’t serve as a B-17 crew member, Delay was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne; he served during the Battle of the Bulge. He says Monday’s flight was his second on a B-17.

“I flew on a flight of a B-17 from Fort Bragg, North Carolina to Seattle, when I was discharged. I rode in the nose, that’s the reason I always remember,” he said.

The B-17 will be at Felts Field this weekend for those who wish to see it, and flights onboard are available.








Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.