Pilot reflects on Liberty Belle's final flight

June 17, 2011 (CHICAGO)

"Our fellow pilot, flying a T6 behind us, says, you know, over the radio, 'My God. You're on fire,'" Captain Sittig said. Captain Sittig had just taken off in the Liberty Belle, one of the last Boeing B-17 'Flying Fortresses' that was still able to fly, when the plane burst into flames. He brought it down in a suburban cornfield Monday. No one was injured, but the plane was destroyed.

The pilot said when he first smelled smoke in the cockpit he thought he could make it back to the Aurora Airport in Sugar Grove. But he said the fire intensified so he had to land the troop transport in an Oswego cornfield.

As he began the descent, he said fire consumed the plane's left flap and the Liberty Belle began to roll.

"Both of us are now around the control column, and pulling back into a full stall flare. We made a very smooth touchdown," Captain Sittig said of his emergency landing, just one minute and forty-seconds after the fire was spotted.

Everyone got out safely, but fire trucks couldn't reach the plane due to the muddy field. The Liberty Belle, which had flown 64 combat missions in WWII and took 15 years to restore, burned.

"It went on for 40 minutes and you're watching this piece of history pass before your eyes in slow motion," Captain Sittig said.

Captain Sittig credits Liberty Belle for living up to her name and helping with his and his passengers safe escapes. "Very sturdy airplane," Captain Sittig said. "Fortunately, truly a fortress.

The Liberty Belle is owned by the Liberty Belle Foundation of Tulsa. They released a statement that "There is no doubt that had the fire equipment been able to reach our aircraft, the fire would have been quickly extinguished and our Liberty Belle would have been repaired to continue her worthwhile mission."

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