Greetings from The Aero Experience Team


The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Sunday, July 13, 2014

B-17 "Memphis Belle" Flies World War II Veteran Pilot, Living History Pilot Reenactor in St. Louis

By Carmelo Turdo
The B-17G "Memphis Belle" made a stop in St. Louis this weekend as part of the Midwest U.S. summer tour.  The World War II-era bomber was hosted by Million Air St. Louis, a full-service fixed base operator at Spirit of St. Louis Airport, and was available for tours and rides around the downtown St. Louis area.  The bomber is operated by the Liberty Foundation, and was used in the 1990 movie "Memphis Belle" portraying the historic B-17 of the same name that became the first B-17 Flying Fortress bomber to complete a tour of 25 missions over Europe in May of 1943.  (The original "Memphis Belle" is now under restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force).  The touring B-17 was accepted into service in April of 1945, and was converted to a VB-17G staff transport for use in the U.S. and Europe until it was designated as surplus in 1959.  It was used as a water bomber until the late 1970s, and restored to B-17F standards for the movie work and living history tours around the U.S.  Yesterday, within the span of three hours, the aircraft flew a B-17 veteran pilot and a living history pilot reenactor - both of whom were essential in preserving the nation's freedom and the legacy of the mighty Flying Fortress.

The touring B-17 was on the ramp around 9:00am, and ready for the first flight of the day at 10:30am.  During the preparations for the flight, several of us looking over the aircraft recognized a gentleman wearing a "U.S. Army Air Corps WWII Flyboy" cap, and soon a group began to gather around him.  We quickly learned that our new friend was Mr. Guyon Smith, Sr., a B-17 bomber pilot with the 457th Bomb Group in the last year of the bombing campaign against Germany.  He was accompanied by his family, including his son, Guyon Smith, Jr., as he awaited his first flight in a B-17 since his wartime service.  Mr. Smith  described missions he flew over Munich and other German cities, emphasizing the thickness of the anti-aircraft fire over the targets and the attacks from German fighters.  His formation was attacked by the vaunted Me-262 jet fighters making slashing attacks from the rear of the large formations of bombers.  His aircraft received damage on several occasions.  When asked if his plane had any nose art, Mr. Smith responded that during the later months of the war, the planes were flown without as much nose art, and his was a "plain Jane" bird without any special markings.  The Aero Experience was privileged to visit with Mr. Smith and his family members, and we have some photos of his flight below:

The third flight was ready for takeoff around noon, and it was time for a new friend of The Aero Experience, Mr. Travis Roberts, to climb aboard.  The flight was timed as a 40th birthday present, but it also had another special meaning.  His grandfather introduced him to flying as a boy, and over the years he has taken an occasional flight lesson and become involved in flying RC aircraft.  Throughout the 1990s, Mr. Roberts portrayed a Navigator, Co-Pilot and Pilot of the B-17 "Shoo Shoo Baby" as a member of the World War II Airmen's Preservation Society.   He was able to participate in events throughout the Midwest, tour many of the warbirds on display, and fly in a B-25 Mitchell bomber and TBM Avenger torpedo bomber.  However, after years of educating the public about the planes and crews of the World War II era, he still had not flown in a B-17.  Yesterday, the timing was right for that B-17 flight, and off he went!  He wrote following the flight, "The flight was everything I expected, it was really awesome! During the flight around the St. Louis Arch, I was the only person in the was truly a moving experience."

Here is Travis Roberts' video from his flight: 
Special thanks to the Liberty Foundation, Million Air St. Louis, the Guyon Smith family and the Roberts family for visiting with The Aero Experience as they prepared for their flights.  For more information on the current "Memphis Belle" tour, visit the Liberty Foundation schedule page.   

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