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WWII B-17 Prepares For Public Flight Tours: 'It's Life Changing'

By Dillon Thomas

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - Residents in Boulder County could expect to see an iconic World War II-era bomber circling their neighborhoods throughout the coming week.

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The Liberty Foundation's B-17 Flying Fortress is one of 12 in the world that can still fly and one of only a few that tours the nation.

"This airplane acts as a catalyst for many veterans to share their story," said John Shuttlesworth, pilot for The Liberty Foundation.

Shuttlesworth and his team travel the nation with the aircraft giving ground and flight tours to the public.

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"B-17 flying fortresses are the iconic bomber of WWII," Shuttlesworth said. "Think (of) what it was like for some 18-year-old to be crawling around on this airplane."

The aircraft, which is lined with thin metal walls, was one of the most common aircraft used in the fight against Nazi Germany.

Shuttlesworth said more than 40,000 airmen went down in a B-17 bomber during the war. Nearly half of them died. The other half were taken as prisoners of war.

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Shuttlesworth said that history is what makes the foundation's B-17 a traveling-museum.

"The sounds, the smells, and the feel of a B-17 -- it is life changing," Shuttlesworth said.

As the aircraft took flight in Boulder County, many stood below watching and taking pictures. Bob Graham, whose uncle flew the B-17 in the war, was one of those in attendance.

"The four radial engines, they sound completely unique," Graham said. "It just seems like everything is in slow motion as it takes off, and heads out towards the mountains."

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Like many of those who operated the B-17 during the war, Graham's uncle was young when he used the fortress.

"The responsibility of a 20-something-year-old guy in that kind of aircraft, with a crew, is really something," Graham said.

For $450 a person, the public can take flight in the B-17. For a donation, anyone can tour the aircraft.

Those who take flight in the aircraft are given complete access to the aircraft, with seating only required during takeoff and landing. Passengers are allowed to sit in the glass nose of the aircraft, where the bombardier would have sat. They can also stick their heads out of the top of the aircraft, into the open air, as it flies thousands of feet above the ground.

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Those who served in World War II are given free flights, according to Shuttlesworth.

"When you see some of these guys tear up, and think about their experience and the friends they lost, it is very moving," he said.

"It is something to see them in a museum. But, when you actually see the thing flying, it is really something," Graham said.

The Liberty Foundation's B-17 will be in Denver Metro area on May 5 and 6. Flights are hosted in the morning, while tours are hosted afterwards.

If you would like to fly in the fortress, you are asked to contact Scott Maher with the Liberty Foundation at (918) 340-0243 or visit

Dillon Thomas is a reporter at CBS4 and a Colorado native. He believes everyone has a story, and would love to share yours! You can find more of his stories by following him on Twitter, @DillonMThomas.

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