For one weekend only, Chattanoogans have the chance to fly in a piece of World War II history — a genuine B-17 "flying fortress" bomber.
The Madras Maiden is maintained and flown by volunteers with the Liberty Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the aircraft and the men who flew them, and a handful of residents will join them in flights over the city on Saturday and Sunday.
With machine guns, radio equipment and a glass nose on the front, the bomber offers an experience far different than flying economy on a commercial flight, but one of the volunteers, Keith Youngblood, said it's the chance of a lifetime.
"It's a whole lot cheaper to have it sitting static in a museum, but when people see it, they come running to the airport," he said Monday. "But it wasn't built for creature comforts."
The 72-year-old plane offers a glimpse into the experiences of the airmen who flew in World War II, and while wind roars through the unpressurized cabin when in flight, Youngblood said it's more than safe with its four engines.
"This plane wasn't just built, it was overbuilt," he said. "Other bombers didn't have the same rigidity and toughness as the B-17."
People interested in taking a flight will need to call ahead to make reservations, but they are required to remain in their seats only during takeoff and landing. While in the air, they can walk up and down the plane and even sit in the nose under the cockpit, looking down at the city.
After a short flight on Monday, one of the pilots, Cullen Underwood, said there's nothing comparable to the B-17.
"The main thing is it's a very big and very heavy airplane. Nothing fast happens in this airplane," he said with a grin.
Underwood said he's flown with the Liberty Foundation since 2008 and he plans to keep doing it as long as he's allowed.
"It's an honor for us to fly this plane just from the historical perspective," he said. "But it's just amazing to me with the guys who flew it and how little experience they had."
Youngblood said keeping the Madras Maiden in the air isn't cheap, costing about $4,500 every flight hour, but he's never met someone who got off and was disappointed to have paid $450 a head for a flight.
"They all say, 'worth every penny,'" he said.
Anyone interested in being a part of one of the flights this weekend should call 918-340-0243 reserve a seat or ask for more information.
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at email@example.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.