WARNER ROBINS -- The Museum of Aviation on Friday celebrated an event that was 33 years in the making, even if it’s not complete just yet.
The museum had hoped that the reception would feature the fuselage of the B-17 Flying Fortress that the museum is getting. Circumstances delayed it, but the engines, wings and tail section that arrived Thursday were on full display during Friday’s reception.
It also featured several men who served as crew members on B-17s in World War II. Two of them, Crawford Hicks of Warner Robins and Wesley Chester of Wrightsville, were shot down and had to bail out. Hicks was held as a prisoner of war, and Chester evaded the Germans for five weeks before being rescued. Hicks never flew again, but Chester returned to duty and ended up flying 50 missions.
Museum curator Mike Rowland told the roughly 200 people in attendance that the museum first requested a B-17 from the Air Force in 1982. It finally got its wish earlier this year when the Air Force agreed to move a B-17G nicknamed “Miss Liberty Belle” to the museum from Grissom Air Museum in Peru, Indiana.
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The former B-17 crew members, along with some other World War II vets, sat in front of the audience next to the B-17 parts that have arrived, including the cockpit instrument panel.
Rowland said having the plane celebrates not just the machine, but the people who conceived, built, maintained and flew it.
“The story of the B-17 is a story about people,” Rowland said. “It’s a truly amazing story with thousands of characters. ... They helped save the world. This is a story that needs to be remembered and told.”
More than 12,000 B-17s were built, but only about 50 still exist today.
Before the ceremony, Chester, who was an engineer on the plane, talked about what it was like to see the first parts of it at the museum. Only he and one other person survived after his plane crashed.
“The B-17 was one of the toughest planes,” he said. “We got shot a lot of times. We had as many as over 300 holes shot in the plane.”
U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, whose grandfather was a B-17 pilot, said it means a lot to him to see the plane come to the museum. Scott, R-Ga., said his grandfather’s plane crashed after one of the plane’s bombs exploded. His grandfather, Jack Austin Scott, bailed out and was taken prisoner. He was liberated 18 months later.
“America is free today because of what those men and women did to win the war,” Scott said.
The fuselage of the plane is scheduled to arrive next week, possibly Tuesday. The plane will be restored on public display in the Scott World War II Hangar.