B-17F ‘Memphis Belle’ – Status Update

B-17F 'Memphis Belle' as she now sits in the restoration hangar at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. (photo by Frank Johnson)
B-17F 'Memphis Belle' as she now sits in the restoration hangar at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. (photo by Frank Johnson)
B-17F ‘Memphis Belle’ as she now sits in the restoration hangar at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. (photo by Frank Johnson)

One of our regular readers, Frank Johnson, recently visited the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, and was lucky enough to get a tour of the main restoration hangar. The building is actually inside the active area at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, on the other side of the fence to the public museum buildings and, consequently, only open to special tours which take place on most Fridays (click HERE for details).

As many readers will know, there are several ongoing projects in the restoration hangar at present including two very famous B-17 Flying Fortresses: B-17D 40-3097 The Swoose and B-17F 41-24485 Memphis Belle. While both aircraft have received a good deal of attention in the past decade since they’ve been at Dayton (8 years for Swoose), Johnson reported that work has slowed considerably. These are difficult times in the museum world, and the effects of the economic downturn in 2008 compounded by the government sequester from 2011 have had lingering effects on many fine institutions. That being said, there is a massive privately funded, 224,000 square foot display hangar under construction at the public museum site itself. And at the time of Johnson’s visit, visible work was currently underway on the Titan 4B rocket (in the hangar) and the C-141A Hanoi Taxi (outside the hangar). The Titan 4B is a relatively recent arrival, and will go on display next year. Work on these projects is relatively straight forward though.

A view of the 'Memphis Belle' from her tail section. As can be seen, her starboard horizontal stabilizer is receiving some new skins. (photo by Frank Johnson)
A view of the ‘Memphis Belle’ from her tail section. As can be seen, her starboard horizontal stabilizer is receiving some new skins. (photo by Frank Johnson)

The two B-17s, on the other hand, are a completely different situation. Both aircraft sat outside in the elements for several decades before coming to Dayton. While in generally good structural condition, they both have suffered from vandalism and loss of internal parts either due to theft, or other misadventures. According to Johnson’s conversations with the volunteers on hand in the restoration shop…

“The Memphis Belle is taking a long time to restore, because they are relying on volunteer efforts and they are short of skilled volunteers. They have fewer than previous years. The Memphis Belle was ravaged and many parts were stolen [Ed. during the early post-war decades in Memphis]. The consensus is that many people know they have original pieces of the Memphis Belle, but are afraid to come forward.”

A close up of the nose art on 'Memphis Belle'. (photo by Frank Johnson)
A close up of the nose art on ‘Memphis Belle’. (photo by Frank Johnson)

Johnson continued, “This is not a case of “Save the Memphis Belle”. She is not in danger, but her restoration process, and that of many other projects, is extremely slow (or stopped) because of lack of funds and skilled labor. If they had money, they could hire workers or at least contract out some of the duties. More money would also allow them to buy B-17 parts.”

“Specifically they are working on the turrets, cockpit console and the interior. The Belle is little more than an aluminum shell… and they are fabricating missing pieces or looking for parts from other B-17s. Although original Belle pieces would be a first priority, they are seeking other B-17 components to help. There is an appeal on the USAF Museum site: http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Collections/DonationWishList.aspx

A nice interior view of the restored ball turret belonging to 'Memphis Belle'. (photo by Frank Johnson)
A nice interior view of the restored ball turret belonging to ‘Memphis Belle’. (photo by Frank Johnson)

… So there you have it. There is recent progress on the Belle at least, but it is slow due to lack of resources at the present time. If the Memphis Belle is in your heart, now might be a good time to see what you can do about helping out (Click HERE for donations). And if any of our readers know of original parts from Belle or Swoose that are not currently with the aircraft, let’s see if we can help them get back to their proper home ‘no questions asked’.

See Below for some photos of The Swoose

Work on the Swoose has apparently slowed to a stand still in recent years. This is how she looks in the present day - Sept.2015. (photo by Frank Johnson)
Work on the Swoose has apparently slowed to a stand still in recent years. This is how she looks in the present day – Sept.2015. (photo by Frank Johnson)
A view of work carried out so far on rear fuselage of The Swoose. (photo by Frank Johnson)
A view of work carried out so far on rear fuselage of The Swoose. (photo by Frank Johnson)
Weathered and faded, the original side-art from The Swoose is still clearly evident on her fuselage. (photo by Frank Johnson)
Weathered and faded, the original side-art from The Swoose is still clearly evident on her fuselage. (photo by Frank Johnson)
One of Curtiss-Wright R-1820 engines for B-17D 'Swoose' inside the National Museum of the US Air Force restoration building. (photo by Frank Johnson)
One of Curtiss-Wright R-1820 engines for B-17D ‘Swoose’ inside the National Museum of the US Air Force restoration building. (photo by Frank Johnson)

18 Comments

    • No.. they are static-only restorations. Shoo Shoo Baby, the combat-veteran B-17G already on display in the main museum building, was restored to flying condition though, and made a few, brief hops before her final flight to Dayton 20 plus years ago.

  1. There is a B-17 that is airworthy and tours the country giving ride along flights. Do you have an information on that aircraft and can it be used to model or replicate the missing equipment from these two beautiful historic aircraft?

  2. I tried a few times to volunteer to work on the “Belle” when she was still in Memphis.. It would have been an experience to remember, to have put my talents as a fabricator, and an eye for detail to use in the preservation of such a historic bird..

    Thankfully there are people who do..

  3. The big question for the Swoose is…will she be restored to her combat appearance, when she flew one of the first bombing attacks of WWII by the U.S., or as the VIP transport? I live right down the road from the museum, and I sure hope they bring her back in her combat scheme, bristling with machine guns!

  4. I hope, while in the process of restoring the Memphis Belle, that they do not repair any of her battle “scars”. Those are her history. I wouldn’t want to see her as she was when she came off the assembly line. I want to see her as she was when she came home. I want to see what she went through to accomplish her mission and bring her crew home safe. Don’t erase her history.

  5. I saw Swoose up close at NASM’s Garber facility …30 years ago (Enola Gay under restoration, as well.). And while her life as Swoose likely saved her from being scrapped as war weary, she should nevertheless be restored as Ole Betsy …as a testament to the determination, not only of the American people, but especially of the brave young airmen who flew her in those early days following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

  6. As a child, my father would take me for a drive on weekends and my favorite place was to see the Memphis Belle. Climbing inside the huge aircraft was such a thrill for me. I will Always remember those times with my Dad and honor those brave men who fought so bravely for each and every one of us
    Thanks for the memories

  7. When I saw the Memphis Belle in 1986, at Memphis International Airport, it had engines made by Studebaker, for Wright Cyclone. These were more reliable & preferred by the ground & air crews.

  8. Just finished the audio book THE MAN WHO FLEW THE MEMPHIS BELLE. In the book she was enshrined on Mud Island, Memphis, TN I believe in the 1980s or 1990s. What happened that she left there?

  9. Listening to NPR, a volunteer Steve Martin I believe was cleaning a Norden bomb sight. It was developed at Eglin AFB. I had to do some work on a printer in the building were it was developed, this was in the 90’s. Rang the doorbell, look at the floor while waiting , I was standing on large loose square plate, asked the guy if was a cellar or something. Told me it was packed with explosives during WW2 that they could detonate from inside the building in case of an attack.

  10. I hope you will get the memphis belle complete she is a beautiful plane she’s the closest thing your get to heven gods speed i hope she be in air when l come for a holiday

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