And the B-17 is truly historic. Along with the B-24, built at Willow Run, the bomber played a crucial role in winning the war in Europe. With a crew of ten, mostly kids fresh out of high school, B-17s in flights of hundreds would sweep from bases in England deep into Germany. In the beginning, losses were staggering: up to a quarter of the planes sent out on those missions never returned, shot down by flak or fighters. But the B-17's legendary durability, plus the thirteen 50-caliber machine guns that gave it the nickname "Flying Fortress," earned it the affection and respect of its crews.
The Yankee Lady is a B-17G, the version that formed the heart of the bomber's production run. Of 8,680 made, only nine are still flying. Crew chief Norm Ellickson says even with volunteer labor, it costs about $2,500 an hour to put her in the air. The plane currently logs 150 flight hours annually from May through September, most of them at air shows across the country. But she'll be back August 4 and 5 for the Thunder Over Michigan airshow at Willow Run, where she'll be joined by the museum's own B-25 bomber and C-47 transport, plus Mustang and Thunderbolt fighters and Fifi, the only B-29 "Super Fortress" still flying.