Highlands Ranch resident Robert McAdam flew in a Boeing B-17 on a mission once in World War II — and he had to bail out over Nazi-occupied Austria.
"I was 23 at the time, and I don't …
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WHAT: Visit the Madras Maiden B-17 bomber
WHERE: Rocky Mountain Metro Airport
11705 Airport Way, Broomfield
WHEN: Saturday, May 20, and Sunday, May 21
Flights - hourly from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Ground tours - 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.
COST: Flights - $450
Ground tours - Free
INFORMATION: 918-340-0243 or www.libertyfoundation.org
The majority of all Word War II B-17s were operated by the 8th Airforce in Europe and participated in countless missions from bases in England deep into enemy territory.
There were 12,732 B-17s produced between 1935 and 1945 — 4,735 were lost in combat.
Following WWII, the B-17 saw combat in three more wars — Korea, Israel in the war of 1948 and Vietnam.
The Maiden is one of only 12 B-17s that still flies today.
The Maiden was built toward the end of the war and never saw any combat. It is painted in the colors of the 381st Bomb Group.
The 381st flew 297 operational missions during the war, dropping 22,000 tons of bombs. During this time, it lost 131 B-17s and downed more than 223 enemy aircraft.
The Maiden was built under contract by Lockheed-Vega in Burbank, California, on Oct. 17, 1944.
The Maiden spent its entire military career (1944-1959) as a research and development aircraft, also being modified to be a “Pathfinder” B-17 equipped with the H2X “Mickey” radar system. It is the only “Pathfinder" aircraft left in existence.
It was sold as surplus in 1959 to American Compressed Steel of Ohio for $5,025, then sold to Albany Building of Florida and used as a cargo transport hauling fresh produce between Florida and the Caribbean.
In 1963, the plane was sold again and converted to a Fire Ant sprayer under contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. From 1979 through 2014, the B-17 bomber was purchased by three different Aviation museums and continued to be slowly restored back to her original combat configuration.
In 2016, The Liberty Foundation began to operate the Maiden and fly it as an education tool.
"I was 23 at the time, and I don't remember being scared," McAdam said. "I had a job to do, and I knew I had to do it right."
McAdam, a member of the 15th Army Air Corps during the war, was on a mission out of Foggia, Italy, to bomb oil refineries in northern Germany when the plane was attacked and engines started failing.
"We dropped our bombs, though we didn't make it to the target, and were told to get everything else out of the plane," McAdam remembered. "There are two people I thank for my survival — the person who packed my parachute, and the German soldier who didn't shoot me on the ground when he could have."
McAdam was taken to a prisoner of war camp in northern Germany, where he remained for 10 months, until the camp was liberated by the Russians.
The last time McAdam was on a B-17, he was being flown out of the camp where he was held. Now, at 96 years old, McAdam had the opportunity to climb back into the "flying fortress" thanks to The Liberty Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving the Madras Maiden, a B-17 built on Oct. 17, 1944.
"It's a beautiful plane," McAdam said. "I'm impressed someone is trying to preserve this history for people."
The Liberty Foundation takes the plane all over the country to provide people a chance to climb aboard the plane, and even take a ride. The plane makes a pit stop May 20-21 at the Rocky Mountain Metro Airport, 11705 Airport Way in Broomfield.
"Veterans are the reason we do what we do," said Scott Maher, director of flight operations at Liberty. "We're losing our World War II veterans, and with each death we lose another story of valor."
When the Maiden is at the airport, ground tours and photos are free for anyone who wants to climb up into the plane and explore from 2:30 - 6:30 p.m. Half-hour flights are available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every hour at $450 a seat, and all the money goes to the plane's upkeep and preservation.
"It costs about $5,000 an hour to fly the plane," Maher explained. "During our ride weekends, we probably spend about $15,000 in fuel alone."
During the war, about 12,732 B-17s were built, but about a third were lost in combat. Currently, less than 100 of the plane's frames exist, and even fewer could be taken into the air.
"This is a great educational opportunity for the public," said John Hess, one of the plane's pilots. "You don't often have the opportunity to get hands-on with history like this."
For McAdam, who lived through the momentous years of the war, the plane is an opportunity to remind people what his generation experienced.
"The memories are still fresh and alive in my mind," he said. "It's a part of history, and the more information people have, the more they will understand."
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