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 381st Bomb group

In November of 1942 the 381st Bomb Group (H) had its inception into the 8th Air Force. Trained with B-17s before moving to England, May-June of 1942. Entered and served in combat from June 1943 to April 1945, bombing such targets as the aircraft assembly plant at Villacoublay, an airdrome at Amiens, locks at St Nazaire, an aircraft engine factory at Le Mans, nitrate works in Norway, aircraft plants in Brussels, industrial areas of Munster, U-boat yards at Kiel, marshalling yards at Offenberg, aircraft factories at Kassel, aircraft assembly plants at Leipzig, oil refineries at Gelsenkirchen, and ball-bearing works at Shweinfurt. Received a Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for performance on 8 Oct 1943 when shipyards at Bremen were bombed accurately in spite of persistent enemy fighter attacks and heavy flak. Received second DUC for similar action on 11 Jan 1944 during a mission against aircraft factories in central Germany. Participated in the intensive campaign of heavy bombers against enemy aircraft factories during Big Week, 20-25 Feb 1944. Often supported ground troops and attacked targets of interdiction when not engaged in strategic bombardment. Supported the Normandy invasion in Jun 1944 by bombing bridges and airfields near the beachhead. Attacked enemy positions in advance of ground forces at St Lo in Jul 1944. Assisted the airborne assault on Holland in Sep. Struck airfields and communications near the battle zone during the Battle of the Bulge, Dec 1944-Jan 1945. Supported the Allied crossing of the Rhine in Mar 1945 and then operated against communications and transportation in the final push through Germany. Returned to the US, Jun-Jul 1945. Inactivated on 28 Aug 1945.

The 381st flew its final mission on April 21, 1945 and completed 297 operational missions, dropping over 22,000 tons of bombs. 131 of its aircraft were lost; The Group's accomplishments show a total of 223 enemy aircraft destroyed and hundreds more damaged.

More information can be found at the official 381st BG Memorial Association website at

History of the B-17 Madras Maiden

B-17G 44-8543 was built by Lockheed-Vega and accepted by the USAAF in Burbank on October 17, 1944. The B-17 was assigned to the Flight Test Branch at Wright Field and modified to be a "Pathfinder" aircraft and equipped with the H2X "Mickey" radar system in place of the ball turret. From 1944-1959 The aircraft spent its entire military career as a research and development aircraft. From the B-17's that were converted to become "Pathfinder" aircraft, N3701G is the only one left in existence.

Military History Timeline:
Oct-44 delivered to the USAAF
Nov-44 to Wright Field and Modified to 'Pathfinder" radar aircraft.
Sep-45 to Clinton Army Air Field as an all-weather research aircraft.
Nov-46 Aircraft assigned to Minneapolis, Minnesota for a Honeywell Corp research project.
Jun-48 All weather flight center, Clinton Field
Mar-49 the Fortress was converted to an ETB-B17G and began another long term test program
Jun-51 to Wright Air Development Center, OH
Nov-52 to the Air Material Command, test program involving the FTC, Westchester, NY.
Aug-56 Aircraft Converted to JTB-B17G continuing to serve in a research role.
Mar-57 to Teterboro airport NJ
Mar-59 to 3040th Aircraft Storage Squadron (Air Materiel Command), Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ
May-59 dropped from inventory as surplus

Civilian History:
44-8543 was purchased through sealed bid by the American Compressed Steel Corp. of Cincinnati, OH on August 18, 1959 for the sum of $5,026.00 and become N3701G on the U.S. Civil register. In 1960 she was transferred to Aero- Associates and had a cargo door added to the right waist of the aircraft. On February 6, 1961 the aircraft was sold to Albany Building Corp of Fort Lauderdale FL. The aircraft was used as a cargo transport, hauling fresh produce between southern Florida and the Caribbean. On March 17, 1963 N3701G was sold again to Dothan Aviation in Dothan Alabama and converted to a Fire Ant Sprayer under contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sold again on October 4, 1979 to Dr William Hospers of Fort Worth, TX. Mr. Hospers and his team of volunteers spent years slowly restoring the aircraft back to her combat configuration. On October 7, 2010, N3701G was sold to Training Services, Inc of Virginia Beach. The B-17 underwent a minor restoration and began to fly in airshows.

In 2013, N3701G was sold to the Erickson Collection, an aviation museum in Madras Oregon. Restored to her combat configuration and painted in the colors of the 381st Bomb Group, and sporting the Madras Maiden nose-art, N3701G flies today to honor our veterans, educate current and future generations as to the high price of freedom and to preserve our aviation heritage.

Memphis Belle History - The most famous B-17 and Crew

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. This aircraft WILL NOT fly again and hasn't flown in decades.

NOTE: The Memphis Belle aircraft you see flying today is what is widely considered the Movie Memphis Belle. This particular aircraft has no combat history and serves to honor the original crew and aircraft. You will notice the Movie Memphis Belle has a cursive "Memphis Belle" on the nose instead of the original block letters.

More information can be found at the National Museum of the US Air Force website at

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