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Madras Maiden voyages to Lowcountry for flights, tours

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Boeing Co. produces 787 passenger planes in the Lowcountry today, but on Saturday, a much older, California-built Boeing will be visiting.

The B-17 "Madras Maiden," one of 12 B-17s still flying today, is on display on Saturday at Charleston Executive Airport on Johns Island. The public can take half-hour flights on the plane between 10 a.m. and about 2 p.m., and the plane will be open for tours after that. Flights are $410 for Liberty Foundation members and $450 for nonmembers. A few guests, reporters and photographers got a preview during a short flight over the Charleston area earlier in the week as the flight crews were preparing for this weekend's tours.

The B-17, dubbed the "Flying Fortress" because of its defensive firepower, was involved in every theater of operation in World War II, according to The Liberty Foundation, which is touring the Madras Maiden. The plane is on loan from the Erickson Collection, based in Madras, Ore.

The Madras Maiden was built under contract by Lockheed-Vega on Oct. 17, 1944, according to The Liberty Foundation. It spent its military career as a research and development aircraft, including being modified to be a "Pathfinder" B-17 with the H2X "Mickey" radar system.

The plane was sold as surplus in 1959 to American Compressed Steel of Ohio for $5,025 and was sold to Albany Building of Florida and used to haul fresh produce between Florida and the Caribbean, according to a news release. It was sold again in 1963 and converted to a fire ant sprayer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it spent almost three decades in different aviation museums while it was restored to its original combat configuration. 

The Liberty Foundation, based in Oklahoma, begin flying the Madras Maiden in 2016 "to continue our mission of honoring our veterans, educate current and future generations as to the high price of freedom and to preserve our aviation history."

According to the foundation, the cost to operate a B-17 is $5,000 per flight hour.

Reach Beverly Barfield at 843-849-3115.

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