Residents will have the chance to view an exact replica of the Memphis Belle on Saturday, June 15, and Sunday, June 16, 2013, in Smyrna, Tenn. (TMP Photos/D. Whittle)
On Dec. 7, 1941, the day that will live in infamy when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, 19-year-old middle Tennessee native Glenn Hale declared, “I’m in!”
“I knew instantly when it came over the radio the Japanese had attacked America, I was going to enlist in what was then called the U.S. Army Air Corps,” Hale said. “Within months, by age 20, I was flying missions over Europe.”
The veteran aviator shared other memories as a B-17 World War II-era, four-propeller-driven aircraft shuddered and wheezed to life in preparation for the Father’s Day Weekend flights that will be happening out of the Smyrna Airport.
Residents will have the opportunity to fly over Nashville, Woodbury and Shelbyville, as well as other parts of Middle Tennessee, in an exact replica of the Memphis Belle, a plane that saw immense action during World War II.
“As a co-pilot on one of these old 'Flying Fortresses,' I flew 14 bombing missions over Germany,” Hale recalled, as the commemorative the plane did take-offs and landings on the long runways that formerly served area pilots, including him, during WWII pilot training at the historic Sewart Air Force Base.
“I had to bail out of my B-17 on one bombing mission,” Hale said. “It took me several weeks to get safely back to England.”
“Many air-deployment and bombing techniques for those WWII aircraft and airmen were developed and refined here at old Sewart Air Base, which was operational from the 1940s to the 1970s,” said John Black, executive of the Smyrna Aiport. “It touches your patriotic bones to witness a brave WWII pilot, such as Mr. Hale, as he relives some ancient memories of that dreadful war in Europe and Pearl Harbor.”
Pilot Robert “Bob” Hill echoed that sentiment.
“I’m a volunteer pilot of the Belle today, for the Liberty Foundation based in Tulsa, Okla.,” said Hill, who resides in Nashville. “We’re honored today that WWII co-pilot Hale is on board with us today.”
Commercial pilot Randy Gray, of Smyrna, was on hand to witness the aerial demonstration.
“On many off days, I’m out here, to see the small airplanes based at historic Smyrna Airport,” Gray said. “It’s an honor to meet one of the men who actually flew these old birds that helped defeat the Germans and Japanese.”
Gray said he attends air shows all over the United States, including the world’s biggest one held annually at Osh Kosh, Wisc. “Each year, we camp out at Osh Kosh."
For those unable to attend the Father's Day Weekend flights, slated for Saturday, June 15, and Sunday, June 16, the Memphis Belle can be seen in film.
“In 1989, this aircraft was hired for use in the filming of the ‘Memphis Belle’ movie in England,” said Scott Maher, a publicist for the Liberty Foundation, a nonprofit organization. “In July 1989, she crossed the Atlantic Ocean with another B-17 to participate with another B-17 in filming the movie that’s been viewed all over the world.
The plane is only one of 13 Flying Fortresses remaining in flight today, he added.
“This commemorative ‘Memphis Belle’ was built near the end of WWII and never saw combat," Maher said. "It is painted in the colors and nose art of the original historic Memphis Belle that flew countless missions with the 91st bomb group of the mighty U.S. Air Force. That original Memphis Belle was the first B-17 to complete 25 missions in Europe.”