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WWII plane open for tours and rides in LaPorte
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WWII plane open for tours and rides in LaPorte

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LAPORTE — The plane never flew in combat, but ones just like it helped the country to victory in World War II.

Visitors to the LaPorte Municipal Airport are allowed to board and even fly in the B-17 bomber through Sunday.

Bruce Anderson, a former military pilot in the Vietnam War, was among the more than 100 people turning out to see it land on Tuesday.

Anderson primarily flew helicopters during his 33 years in the military, and two of his uncles flew in B-17s as flight engineers during World War II.

“I love airplanes and this is the iconic piece,” Anderson said.

The plane is one of six World War II aircrafts owned by the Mesa, Arizona branch of the Commemorative Air Force.

The B-17 bomber has been used for tours and rides across the country every year since being restored in 1983, said Mike Garrett, a retired aeronautics engineer and member of the all-volunteer organization.

He said the mission of the group is honoring the fighter pilots of the war and to keep alive what they endured at tremendous risk "to preserve our freedoms.”

Garrett said one-third of the American fighter pilots at the height of the war died prior to completing the 25 flight missions required before returning home.

He said an equal number were shot down and taken prisoner.

“It was pretty rugged duty,” Garrett said.

Garrett said the B-17 bomber on display in LaPorte was built in 1944. By the time it was ready for military use, the war was just months from ending. The plane was first used in the South Pacific on mapping and reconnaissance missions and to collect data in the clouds from atomic weapons testing, he said.

Garrett said the plane, after being sold at auction, was used as a water bomber to help put out forest fires.

Much of the plane is still original and so are its four extremely loud engines.

Replacement parts for the engines are no longer available but there are shops that can make them to specifications when called upon.

“We feel very fortunate our plane is doing well. We love to take it on a tour and show it off,” he said.

Diane Schwarz, operations manager at the airport, said tours at $10 per person or $20 for a family offered all week will be available during the afternoon Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

She said morning rides will also be available on those three days.

The rides cost $425 or $850 per person, depending on where each individual wants to sit on the plane, to help fund ongoing maintenance of the war bird.

“Not cheap, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Schwarz said.

Schwarz said one of the routes Saturday will take the plane over some of the retirement and nursing homes from Valparaiso to South Bend so any residents who might be a veteran can look up and see the aircraft.

Coincidentally, Saturday is the 75th anniversary of Japan surrendering to end the war. This year is also the 75th anniversary of the airport, which brought in the plane to help celebrate the milestone.

“It’s pretty exciting all of the things that came together to make this happen,” Schwarz said.

Gallery: Veterans Service Memorial in Foundation Meadows Park

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