The “Fearless Men of the B-17 Flying Fortress” Drop In To Fantasy of Flight Oct. 17-18 as Part of Ongoing “Living History” Series

POLK CITY, Fla. (Oct. 13, 2009) – Fantasy of Flight, Central Florida’s premier aviation-themed attraction, continues its culture-rich 2009 Living History Symposium Series with a tribute to the Boeing B-17 Bomber, aka the Flying Fortress, and the brave men who flew these sturdy, virtually indestructible, long-distance bombers.

On Sat., Oct. 17 and Sun., Oct. 18, Fantasy of Flight will welcome five great American war heroes as they share their compelling stories of triumph surrounding the legendary B-17.  The World War II veterans will interact with guests in open forum/question-and-answer sessions scheduled both days at 11:30 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.  Not only will guests be able to hear firsthand from these daring airmen and patriots, they will be able to walk through an authentic B-17 Flying Fortress and imagine what it was like to participate in a bombing mission over hostile Germany as one of the bomber’s ten-member crew. Visitors will also get an up close look at the fierce P-51 Mustang, the fighter escort for the B-17.

The "Fearless Men of the B-17 Flying Fortress" include :

    * Gilbert "Gil" Belair (The Villages, Fla.) an airplane commander (left seat pilot) who flew B-17 bombers with the 305th Bomb Group (H) in the 8th U. S. Army Air Force in England. The 305th was a storied and distinguished unit in WWII and was one of those which flew their aircraft home to the U.S. in late 1945.

    * Richard "Rick" Morris (The Villages, Fla.) was a pilot with the 92nd Bomb Group (H) 8th U.S. Army Air Force.  The 92nd, along with the 306th and the 384th Bomb Groups, were the three oldest units deployed in England during WWII and were accorded the dubious "honor" of remaining in Europe as part of the Occupation Forces of Germany.  Morris enjoyed a 35-year career in aerospace sales engineering followed by a 10-year span with the National Air and Space Museum.

    * Patrick O’Keef (Orlando, Fla.) saw action in 27 heavy bombardment missions over enemy-occupied Europe while flying in B-17s with the 8th Air Force Bombardment Division, 388th Bomb Group (sq. "H"), 562nd Bomb Squadron.  During that time he was usually the 11th man in the B-17 as the aerial photographer. As a qualified flight engineer for turret gunner, he often flew relief on any of the B-17’s guns. He is currently working on his autobiography, titled Survivor of the 20th Century.

    * Paul Roberts (The Villages, Fla.) flew the B-17 as an airplane commander with the 457th Bomb Group (H) of the U.S. Army 8th Air Force based near the village of Glatton, England.  The 457th was also a distinguished and noteworthy unit of the 8th and was privileged to fly their aircraft back to the U.S. in late 1945.  Roberts retired following a career in avionics and computers with Lucent Corporation.

    * Linwood Smith (The Villages, Fla.) was a member of the 8th Air Force, 339th Fighter Group, 503rd Fighter Squad in Fowlmere, England.  He piloted the P-51 (Model D) aircraft also known as the Mustang, escorting B-17 and B-24 bombers to and from Germany which greatly reduced the bomber losses.  

    * William H. Rich (Orange Park, Fla.) served with 95th Bomb Group as a gunner, and later as a targeter. Rich has been recognized for his gunnery instruction to well-known celebrity students Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart. Rich also published a memoir about his wartime experience entitled "All Out For Freedom."

    * Rudy Froeschle (Ft. Myers, Fla) joined the 384th Bomber Group, 544th Fighter Squadron in Germany 1943. During a mission over Stuttgart, Germany, his plane was gunned down and he was held prisoner for two years. During his captivity, he taught German grammar and literature to college students. He also obtained a trombone from the YMCA representative, which was "stolen" and became famous for being the top of the still that was portrayed in the movie "The Great Escape."

"We are truly honored to welcome these distinguished pilots and airmen to Fantasy of Flight to share their incredible stories about flying bombing missions in the B-17 ‘Flying Fortress,’" said Kermit Weeks, founder and creator of Fantasy of Flight. "The opportunity to hear firsthand from our World War II veterans is one that no American should take lightly and we hope that all of Central Florida will come out to support these true war heroes while learning more about their incredible aircraft."

In conjunction with this event, Fantasy of Flight will also host a Military Collector’s Show at its onsite Orlampa Conference Center, on Sat., Oct. 17 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m   and Sun., Oct. 18 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  The show will feature nearly 40 military antiques collectors, showing a wide variety of collectible memorabilia from the Civil War to the Vietnam War.  Guests will have the opportunity to see and purchase uniforms, medals, insignia and war relics, among other military-related items.
Upon the entry of the U.S. into World War II, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress played a vital role in the bombardment of Germany. Flying out of American bases in England, as many as 1,000 B-17 aircraft at a time were staged and deployed in daring daylight raids.  In the earliest days of the War, the long distance bombers flew steadfast to their targets, even when their fighter defense had to turn back for fuel, which required the bombers to operate in tight formation for protection – and resulted in a loss rate up to 25 percent.  Even so, enemy fighters attacked the legendary, durable B-17 knowing that thirteen .50 caliber guns awaited them.  Eventually, the development of the long-range P-51 Mustang granted the Flying Fortress a fierce escort at its side, allowing the bombers to deliver their payloads with greater safety to the crews and truly turn the tide of the war in Europe.

This marks the fourth event this year in Fantasy of Flight’s Living History Symposium Series. This spring, the attraction hosted the barrier-breaking Tuskegee Airmen. Next came the fearless female Women Airforce Service Pilots, followed by the World War II American Fighter Aces.
The Living History Symposium and the Military Collectors Show are included with regular Fantasy of Flight admission. Guests may pay just $6 for entry to the Military Collectors Show only.

Admission is $28.95 for adults, $14.95 for children ages 6-15, plus 7 percent sales tax. Children 5 and younger are free. Discounts are available for groups of 15 or more.  Annual passes are available for $69.95 for adults, $39.95 for children ages 6-15, plus 7 percent sales tax, and are good for one year from the date of purchase.

For more information, call 863-984-3500 or visit
Fantasy of Flight is an aviation-themed attraction showcasing vintage aircraft from the world’s largest private collection; themed immersion experiences; flight simulators; interactive exhibits; a tram tour of aircraft maintenance areas; Restoration and Backlot tours; Fun with Flight center for families and an Aerial Demonstration of the Day (weather permitting).  Recent additions to Fantasy of Flight attractions include The Tuskegee Airmen – They Dared to Fly exhibit; the multimedia tribute to the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) – A Passionate Pursuit and a walking audio tour.
Hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily.   General admission is $28.95 for adults, $26.95 for seniors ages 55 and over and $14.95 for children, ages 6-15, plus 7 percent sales tax.  Annual passes are available for $69.95 for adults, $39.95 for children ages 6-15, plus 7 percent sales tax, and are good for one year from the date of purchase.  Hot air balloon rides and biplane rides are available for an extra charge.For more information about Fantasy of Flight, call 863-984-3500 or visit