Boeing B-17 History

The Boeing B-17 is by far the most famous bomber of World War II. In 1934 the Boeing Aircraft Company of Seattle Washington began construction of a four engine heavy bomber. Known as the Model -299, first flight was achieved on July 28th 1935. As a result, the U.S. Government placed an order for production of 13 of these aircraft and began to take delivery of the 13 production aircraft between January 11th and August 4th 1937.

The B-17, dubbed the "Flying Fortress" as a result of her amount of defensive firepower, underwent a number of improvements over its ten-year production run. B-17 Models ranged from the YB-17 to the B-17G model. Throughout the war the B-17 was refined and improved as the combat experience showed the Boeing designers where improvements could be made. The Final B-17 production model, the B-17G was produced in the largest quantities (8,680) than any other previous model and is considered the definitive "Flying Fortress". With its 13 .50-caliber machine guns, Chin, top, ball and tail turrets; waist and cheek guns the B-17 was indeed an airplane that earned the respect of its combatants. In addition, the flight crews loved the B-17 for her ability to take and withstand heavy combat damage and return safely home.

During WWII, the B-17 saw service in every theater of operation, but was operated primarily by the 8th Air force in Europe and participated in countless missions from bases in England. A typical B-17 Mission often lasted for more than eight hours and struck targets deep within enemy territory. During the war, B-17's dropped 640,036 tons of bombs on European targets in daylight raids. This compares to the 452,508 tons dropped by the B-24 and 464,544 tons dropped by all other U.S. aircraft. The B-17 also downed 23 enemy aircraft per 1,000 raids as compared with 11 by B-24's and 11 by fighters and three by all U.S. medium and light bombers.

There were a total of 12,732 B-17's that were produced between 1935 and May 1945. Of these 4,735 were lost in combat. Following WWII, the B-17 saw service in three more wars. B-17's were used in Korea, Israel used them in the war of 1948 and they were even used during Vietnam.

Today, fewer than 100 B-17 airframes exist and fewer still are in airworthy condition. At one time, more than 1000 B-17's could be assembled for mass combat missions, now fewer than 15 of Boeing's famous bombers can still take to the sky.

History of the 91st Bomb group

In September of 1942 the 91st Bomb Group (H) had its inception into the 8th Air Force. Trained with B-17s before moving to England, August–October 1942. Entered combat in November 1942, bombing such targets as submarine pens, airdromes, factories, communication targets, shipbuilding yards, harbors, and dock facilities until mid-1943. When Eighth Air Force heavy bombers first penetrated Germany on 27 January 1943, the group attacked the navy yard at Wilhelmshaven. Earned a Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for bombing marshalling yards at Hamm on 4 March 1943, despite adverse weather and heavy opposition. From the middle of 1943 until the war ended, attacked aircraft factories, airfields, oil facilities, chemical industries and ball-bearing factories. Earned a second DUC for attacking vital aircraft factories in central Germany on 11 January 1944 despite inadequate fighter cover, heavy enemy opposition, and bad weather. In June 1944, contributed to the Allied invasion of Normandy by bombing gun emplacements and troop concentrations near the beachhead area. Supported the St. Lo breakthrough by attacking enemy troop positions, 24–25 July 1944. In December 1944 – January 1945, participated in the Battle of the Bulge by attacking enemy communication targets. The group supported the Allied crossing of the Rhine River in the spring of 1945 by striking airfields, bridges, and railroads near the front lines. After the war ended, evacuated prisoners from German camps. Returned to the United States, June–July 1945.

The 91st participated in 340 operational missions, dropping over 22,000 tons of bombs. 197 of its aircraft were lost, and 10 due to other causes. The Group's accomplishments show a total of 420 enemy aircraft destroyed, 238 probably destroyed, and 127 damaged. During its combat history the group's Force lost 1,010 combat crewman ( 887 killed and 123 missing in action) with more than 960 crewman to be held as prisoners of war. The group's aircraft losses were the highest of any other 8th Air Force bomb group.

Original Memphis Belle History

The B-17 Flying Fortress called Memphis Belle (Serial No 41-24485) is a wartime legend. Her fame did not lie only in the fact that she was famous for being the first B-17 to complete her tour of duty (25 missions) during World War II, but also that she managed, despite severe damage, to bring all her men back from every single mission unscathed. While the Memphis Belle is famous for being the first crew to complete 25 missions it was actually not the first. Just a few days prior the B-17 Hell's Angels (Serial No 41-24577) of the 303 Bomb Group was actually the first crew to complete 25 missions. But Uncle Sam needed a morale boost back home and thus the Memphis Belle crew flew home to a nationwide warbond tour and heroes welcome. Regardless whether they were first or not completing 25 missions was quite the accomplishment.

However, postwar this magnificent bomber has had a turbulent history. Dumped to rot once in an airplane boneyard, and later ravaged by vandals, the Belle was almost lost to the world twice - a fate unbefitting so great a war legend. In fact, it wasn't until the 80s that people recognised her for the heritage that she was, and brought her the proper respect that she deserved.

The story of the Memphis Belle began with a simple love story between a young girl, Margaret Polk, from Memphis and a young airman...

Built by the Boeing Aircraft Company, the Memphis Belle was sent into active duty with the 8th Air Force in England under the command of Captain Robert Morgan. She flew from 7 November, 1942 to 17 May, 1943, during which time she became famous for being not only the first heavy bomber during World War II to complete 25 missions (Hell's Angels was actually the first) but also the bomber that kept her entire crew alive. All in all, the crew of the Belle had downed eight enemy fighters, dropped a payload of over 60 tons worth of bombs over Germany, France and Belgium, and had flown 148 hours and 50 minutes of combat missions, covering more than 20,000 combat miles. Although the Belle had on many occasions returned from her missions battered and with her engines shot out, none of her men ever sustained much more than a scratch. The Belle itself was not as fortunate having to replace 9 engines, both wings, two tails, and both main landing gear. The mostly forgotten ground crews worked miracles getting these aircraft ready for their crews to fly.

Memphis Belle crew:
Pilot - Robert K Morgan
Co-pilot - James A Verinis
Bombardier - Vince Evans
Navigator - Charles Leighton
Top Turret/Engineer - Levi Dillon
Radio Operator - Robert Hanson
Waist Gunner - Charles Winchell
Waist Gunner - Harold Loch
Ball Turret - Cecil Scott
Tail Gunner - John Quinlan
Crew Chief - Joseph Giambrone (top left)

After the war, the Memphis Belle was saved from reclamation at Altus Air Force Base, where she had been consigned since 1 August 1945, by the efforts of the mayor of Memphis, Walter Chandler, and the city bought the B-17 for $350. She was flown to Memphis in July 1946 and stored until the summer of 1949 when she was placed on display at the National Guard armory. She sat out-of-doors into the 1980s, slowly deteriorating due to weather and vandalism. Souvenir hunters removed almost all of the interior components. Eventually no instruments were left in the cockpit, and virtually every removable piece of the aircraft's interior had been scavenged, often severing the aircraft's wiring and control cables in the process.

In the early 1970s, another mayor had donated the historic aircraft back to the Air Force, but they allowed her to remain in Memphis contingent on her being maintained. Efforts by the locally-organized Memphis Belle Memorial Association, Inc. (MBMA) saw the aircraft moved to Mud Island in the Mississippi River in 1987 for display in a new pavilion with large tarp cover. She was still open to the elements, however, and prone to weathering. Pigeons would also nest inside the tarp and droppings were constantly needing removal from the B-17. Dissatisfaction with the site led to efforts to create a new museum facility in Shelby County. In the summer of 2003 the Belle was disassembled and moved to a restoration facility at the former Naval Air Station Memphis in Millington, Tennessee for work. In September 2004, however, the National Museum of the United States Air Force, apparently tiring of the ups and downs of the city's attempts to preserve the aircraft, indicated that they wanted her back for restoration and eventual display at the museum at Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio.

On 30 August 2005, it was determined that the MBMA would not be able to raise enough money to restore the Belle and otherwise fulfill the Air Force's requirements to keep possession of the aircraft. They announced plans to return the aircraft to the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio after a final exhibition at an airshow in Millington, Tennessee from 30 September–2 October 2005. The Belle arrived safely at the museum in mid-October 2005 and was placed in one of the Museum's restoration hangars.

The Memphis Belle is currently undergoing an extensive restoration and will be placed on static display once completed. The most recent estimates hope to have it on display by 2018. The Museum has placed restoration of Memphis Belle near the top of its priorities.

History of the "Movie" Memphis Belle

B-17G (Serial No 44-83546) was accepted by the USAAF at Long Beach on April 3, 1945 and went to Topeka, Kansas for modifications before going to Lubbock, Texas for short-term storage. It was then moved to Patterson Field, Ohio for storage and then was converted to a CB-17G (transport conversion) and assigned to Air Transport Command at San Francisco. 44-83546 was then assigned to Washington, DC and then to Germany.
In 1948 it was redesignated a VB-17G (staff transport) and then assigned to Andrews AFB, followed by Offutt AFB and then to Japan during the Korean War. In 1954, 44-83546 was placed in storage at Davis-Monthan AFB and then was released for disposal in April 1959.
Military History Timeline:
3-Apr-45 delivered to the USAAF
Apr-45 to South Plains AAF, TX (storage)
Jun-45 to 4100th AAF Base Unit (Air Technical Service Command), Patterson AAF, OH (to CB-17G)
Nov-45 to 63rd AAF Base Unit (Continental Air Force), Mitchel AAF, NY
Jan-46 to 1st AAF Base Unit (CAC), Bolling AFB, DC
Jan-48 to 10th Headquarters Squadron (US Air Forces Europe), Oberpfaffenhofen AB Germany and 501st Air Service Group (USAFE), Wiesbaden AB Germany
Aug-48 to 7160th Air Base Squadron (USAFE), Wiesbaden AB
Oct-48 to HQ Strategic Air Command, Andrews AFB, MD (to VB-17G)
Nov-48 to 3902nd Air Base Group (SAC), Offutt AFB, NE
Nov-50 to HQ Far East Air Forces, Haneda AB, Japan
Oct-54 to 3040th Aircraft Storage Squadron (Air Materiel Command), Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ
Apr-59 dropped from inventory as surplus

Civilian History:
44-83546 was purchased by National Metals Co. of Phoenix, Arizona for the sum of $2,687.00 and then sold to Fast Way Air of Long Beach, California. 44-83546 became N3703G on the US civil register. In 1960 she was converted to a water bomber and operated as Tanker 78. In 1978 N3703G was sold to TBM Inc. of Tulare, California who continued to operate her as a tanker until the late 1970s. N3703G was purchased by the Military Aircraft Restoration Corporation (MARC) in 1982. MARC, owned by David Tallichet was a wartime B-17 pilot with the 100th bomb group. He and his staff restored the B-17G to resemble a B-17F. The restoration included reinstallation of power turrets, early tail gunners compartment, early sperry dorsal turret recovered from a south Pacific wreck and adding a 94th BG paint scheme

In 1989, N3703G was hired for use in a Warner Brothers fictionalized movie named Memphis Belle being filmed in England. In July 1989 she crossed the Atlantic with another B-17 to participate in the filming of the movie. Since returning to the U.S., N3703G has continued in the paint scheme of the "Memphis Belle" and continues to fly today to honor our veterans, educate current and future generations as to the high price of freedom and to preserve our aviation heritage.

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