Rebuild to begin soon

Restoration of B-17 recovered from Labrador will take at least 10 years, owner says

Terry Roberts editor@cbncompass.ca
Published on January 27, 2009
Members of the salvage crew stand atop the wreckage of a crashed B-17 bomber in Labrador in 2004. The Second World War aircraft is now in the U.S. as an extensive rebuilding phase begins. The bomber made a forced landing on a frozen lake in 1947 and eventually sank. The rebuilding phase is expected to take years. - Submitted photo

A rare Second World War vintage bomber that was recovered from a lake in Labrador nearly five years ago is still at least a decade away from flying again, said the man who now owns the wreck.

Don Brooks of Douglas, Ga., a wealthy aviation buff who rebuilds classic airplanes, financed the successful recovery of the B-17 in 2004 at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars. The search and recovery garnered international attention, and was chronicled in a television documentary that was broadcast on the History Channel.

A rare Second World War vintage bomber that was recovered from a lake in Labrador nearly five years ago is still at least a decade away from flying again, said the man who now owns the wreck.

Don Brooks of Douglas, Ga., a wealthy aviation buff who rebuilds classic airplanes, financed the successful recovery of the B-17 in 2004 at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars. The search and recovery garnered international attention, and was chronicled in a television documentary that was broadcast on the History Channel.

Brooks waged a lengthy legal battle with the provincial government over his right to salvage the plane, and eventually won permission from the Federal Court of Canada.

A salvage team located and recovered most of the plane in Lake Dyke, approximately 435 kilometres northwest of Goose Bay, during the summer of 2004, and trucked it back to Georgia. It has since been disassembled and sits in a hangar at an airport in Douglas.

Brooks and his team have been preoccupied with the restoration of a Curtiss P-40 fighter plane that was recovered from the Aleutian Islands in the northern Pacific Ocean. That plane is expected to take to the skies again in about two months and Brooks said his full attention will then switch to the B-17.

"I look forward to making that our primary project," he said last week.

Brooks couldn't say how much the restoration project might cost, but noted that a fully restored B-17 could fetch upwards of US$10 million.

The Labrador B-17 was en route from Greenland to Goose Bay in December 1947 when it made an emergency landing on the frozen lake. All nine people on board were safely rescued two days later, and the plane eventually sank.

It's believed there are only 14 airworthy B-17s in existence, and Brooks owns one of them, the Liberty Belle. The Liberty Belle toured the province in September 2006, making stops in Labrador City, Goose Bay, Stephenville, Gander and St. John's. Thousands of people boarded the plane.

Brooks arranged the tour as a way of expressing his gratitude for the support he received in his efforts to recover the B-17 in Lake Dyke.

"We were able to visit with some great people," he said.

The B-17 is special to Brooks because his father served as tail gunner in the "Flying Fortress" during the Second World War. Nearly 13,000 B-17s, a four-engine heavy bomber, were made before, during and after the war.

troberts@thetelegram.com