A workhouse of World War II thundered to life on the tarmac of Burke Lakefront Airport as part of a lesson it and the men who operated it were teaching on the commitment made by the U.S. in the name of freedom generations ago.
The four engines of the B-17 bomber built by Boeing coughed and belched smoke out of their engines as they had done many times since the plane was constructed in 1944. At the throttle of "Flying Fortress," nicknamed by the aviators of World War II for its enormous firepower, was Dave Lyon, the pilot who flies the big plane around the country.
The Liberty Foundation owns the B-17, only one of 12 still flying in the world. But during World War II, 12,732 B-17s delivered bombs and gunfire to the enemy.
The Liberty Foundation flew its aircraft to Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport as a history lesson for the public. The foundation and the aircraft's crew want the public to understand the huge part American men played in helping win the war.
"Bombing formations varied in size from a squadron up to a train of a thousand bombers in a row coming in over the target and dropping bombs," said Lyon, a retired Delta Airlines jetliner pilot.
Lyon, co-pilot Greg Shelton, and flight engineer-mechanic Jon Eads offer rides to the public at $450 per person. The money goes to the upkeep of the vintage aircraft which costs about $5,000 an hour to operate.
Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the public can purchase rides on the bomber at Burke Lakefront Airport.
As the bomber flies the skies over Cleveland, riders must hold on for lack of feature comforts in the plane. The "Flying Fortress" is basically as it was when ten crew members flew over enemy territory and dropped their bombs.
"They had hot metal coming through thin aluminum and Plexiglas, flak, and bullets from enemy aircraft," said Lyon.
At the same time, American fighter pilots were accompanying the bombers to the intended targets. The fighters' jobs were to defend the bombers from enemy fighters in the sky trying to shoot them down.
The plane's three-man crew will show you the guns, now non-operational, which protrude from the fuselage of the "Flying Fortress." The bomb site is also intact in the Plexiglas nose of the plane. It was there, below the pilot and co-pilot, the bombardier sited in on the targets below and let thousands of pounds of destruction loose.
The B-17 helped win the war. Those who purchase rides can experience just a portion of what it was like more than 70 years ago.