Northern Michigan in Focus: Yankee Lady

It survived World War II and avoided a plane graveyard.

Last weekend, a B-17 bomber dubbed Yankee Lady touched down in Manistee County for much more than just rides.

Michelle Dunaway and chief photojournalist Corey Adkins take us aboard the flying fortress for Northern Michigan In Focus.

“These sound and smell better than the jets,” Norman Ellickson, Yankee Air Museum said.

Touchdown for the Yankee Lady, she’s a World War II era B-17 bomber otherwise known as the flying fortress. She flew into the Manistee County Blacker Airport last weekend to give rides and teach some history.

“The B-17 bomber was really the one that really helped win the war in Europe. They made 12,731 of these and most of them flew out of England into Germany. Out of that about 4,000 were lost in combat and or accidents. You have to remember everybody that were flying these was 19 or 20-year-old’s kids,” Ellickson said.

Kids that quickly turned into men.

“The casualty rate on these was worse than being an infantry man, you had about a one chance in four of surviving. We’ve got footage at our museum that shows them being blown out of the air,” Ellickson said.

Ten men to each aircraft, many lives sacrificed for our country.

“The worst day of the war, we lost 60 of these in one day which was really a bad bad day,” he said.

Some shot down by the Germans, some by accident.

“I’m sure there was mistakes and there were midair collisions navigation. Navigation back then it’s not like it is today. Today we can’t get lost if we tried. A lot of the 4,000 that went down, quite a few of them was mid airs. When they took off out of England and circled and tell the whole group got up it was really hell to pay, I’ll be honest with you,” Ellickson said.

When the war ended most of the B-17’s were flown to Arizona where they sit in an airplane graveyard to this day. Some of the them, like the Yankee Lady, had other purposes.

“Luckily some of them were saved for fighting forest fires. That’s what this one was doing it had two tanks upfront there or he called Borre Tanks,” Ellickson said.

She was even featured in the movie Tora, Tora, Tora! The Yankee Air Museum bought her in 1986 and did a nine year restoration. Now the Yankee Lady does tours and rides all over the country. And if you have a bucket list you may want to put a ride on yours, but it’s not cheap.

“We have about 1,400 he rides the summer. I know $450 is a lot of money but I don’t know how many hundreds and hundreds of people I’ve told when you get off the airplane and tell me you didn’t like it, I’ll give you your money back and that has never happened. It’s really a thrill. It’s not like an airliner what is the sounds and smells and everything a World War II except you’re not shooting at anybody and hopefully nobody shooting at you. But it’s quite a thrill,” Ellickson said.

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