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.
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.”
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“
… 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…