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A "Maiden" Voyage That Teaches About Allied Airpower In World War II

One of the most famous bombers of World War II is in Eugene, this week.  A B-17 Flying Fortress --deemed the “Madras Maiden” -- touched down Monday, as part of an ongoing effort to educate people about the war against the Axis…and the airmen who served.  KLCC’s Brian Bull reports. 

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
The Madras Maiden in the early afternoon of March 6, 2017

The silver, four-engined bomber arrived from Portland, where heavy rain kept it grounded for the rest of the afternoon.  But 95-year-old Alton Richard Andrews – who goes by “Andy” for short – was still pleased to walk through a familiar part of history.

“I was the bombardier myself, in the 398th Bomb Group," says Andrews.  "And the B-17 was a good plane as long as it didn’t get hit by flak. Which is anti-aircraft guns. 

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Richard Alton Andrews (Andy) checks out the Madras Maiden after her arrival in Eugene, Monday.

"I was shot down over Munich, I was put in a prison camp, by the Germans.” 

First designed and built by Boeing aircraft in Seattle in 1934, 12,000 B-17s rolled out during World War II.  Today, only twelve remain flying worldwide.

The Flying Fortress had a crew of ten. They dropped bombs on the Third Reich and its allies, while fending off enemy fighters with its thirteen machine guns. 

Liberty Foundation volunteer Donald Keller says missions were grueling.

“When they first started out, the life expectancy was six missions," says Keller. "So the guys knew when they first went over there, they’re due to fly 25 missions, but your life expectancy’s six…it’s not hard to do the math. 

"Again, that’s why I say a lot of the men, I’ve never heard one call themselves a hero, they always considered the guys who didn’t come home a hero.”    

Another volunteer, Jerry Ritter, says the Liberty Foundation flies the Madras Maiden around to teach visitors about the “Greatest Generation”.  

Credit The Liberty Foundation
The Madras Maiden en route to its next destination.

“Because those guys quite literally saved the world," Ritter tells KLCC. "They and their comrades, and the men and women who built the machines, defeated the greatest evil in world history. 

"That’s the main thing I want people to understand from these tours.” 

The Madras Maiden will be open to the public on March 11th and 12th.  Tours are free, while flights are $450 per person.  The Liberty Foundationsays that’s because it costs $1.5 million annually to maintain and operate their Flying Fortress.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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