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The Liberty Belle, a B-17 Flying Fortress operated by the Liberty Foundation of Florida, was destroyed by fire after the crew made an emergency landing in a cornfield in Illinois about 10 a.m., Monday morning. All seven people on board escaped without injury, according to the NTSB, but the airplane was a total loss. The B-17 had taken off from Aurora Municipal Airport near Oswego, Ill., flying with a T-6 in chase. It may be the pilot of the T-6 who communicated the fire on tower frequency shortly after takeoff repeating, "you're on fire, you're on fire, you're on fire!" and "put it on the ground, put it on the ground, put it on the ground!" Several local residents reported seeing the plane flying low, trailing smoke and flames. An account of the event was released Tuesday by Liberty Foundation chief pilot, Ray Fowler.
Fowler says both the B-17 and the T-6 took off uneventfully and proceeded to the southeast. Before the Fortress left Aurora's airport traffic area, the crew and passengers noticed an acrid smell and began to turn back for the airport. "Almost immediately thereafter, Cullen [flying the T-6] spotted flames coming from the left wing and reported over the radio that they were on fire." According to Fowler, within about one minute and forty seconds of that call, the B-17's crew had shutdown and feathered the aircraft's number two engine, activated the engine's fire suppression system, lowered the landing gear and performed a safe off-airport landing in the cornfield. The crew had time to unload bags before the aircraft became engulfed with flames. Fire trucks arrived but did not attempt to drive into the field judging it too soft, after the area's recent rainfall, Fowler said.
The Liberty Belle had been at Aurora to participate in a Salute to Veterans over the weekend and was scheduled to fly at events in Indianapolis, Dayton, and Cincinnati later this month. Flights were offered to the public for $430 each. The World War II-era aircraft was acquired by the Liberty Foundation in 1992 and has been flying since 2004. The NTSB is investigating.
Read Fowler's complete statement online.
Listen to audio obtained from LiveATC.net:
Click here for the MP3 file.