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Memphis Belle Restoration Nears Completion

During a January 4, 2018 media event at the restoration hangar, curators at the United States Air Force Museum showcased progress in restoring the Memphis Belle, flown by the aircrew to complete a 25-mission combat tour over Europe. 

The world’s most iconic B-17 Flying Fortress is nearly ready for her long-awaited unveiling, just in time for the 75th anniversary of her final mission. Memphis Belle, an early-model B-17F, was flown by the first 8th Air Force crew to complete 25 missions, earning pilot Robert Morgan and his crew the honor of returning stateside for a morale-building war bond tour.  The aircraft and her crew gained added fame from a 1944 wartime documentary directed by William Wyler, and decades later a 1990 motion picture reintroduced the stirring story to a new generation.

On January 4, 2018 the United States Air Force Museum hosted a media event at the restoration hangar to showcase the latest progress in a 13-year project to restore and preserve Memphis Belle for display in the museum.  The project began in 2005, and no effort has been spared to return the famous aircraft to her wartime condition, using original components and materials wherever possible.  During the restoration, repairs of battle damage and other modifications were uncovered, including an entire vertical stabilizer that was grafted on to replace the heavily-damaged original.

With the airframe work completed, the restoration crew then spent two months repainting the Belle using historically accurate paint formulas.  They were aided in this effort by the existing archival color footage from William Wyler’s documentary.  His crew shot more than 11 hours of color film, and all of it was available to the restoration crew, along with a wealth of color still photos.  The restoration is incredibly detailed, and many missing parts were fabricated from scratch, including a glycol heater completely hidden in the left wing.  This shows the thoroughness of the restoration, even for components that will never see the light of day.

Museum curator Jeff Duford explained that in many ways the Belle was an ideal restoration project.  Flown by the first crew to complete 25 missions, she represents the heavy sacrifice paid by early-War 8th Air Force aircrew, during a time when the odds were 3 in 4 of a crew not completing their tour.  Also, the wealth of archival information on this particular aircraft made it much more practical to make the restoration absolutely accurate.

Memphis Belle will be the centerpiece of a three-day special event this spring, culminating in a May 17, 2018 unveiling marking the 75th anniversary of her final combat mission.  The Belle will be home at last.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY JIM RYAN

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5 Comments

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  1. I still have the Revell model of this plane which I built when I was about 12 years old sometime around 1960. I framed the cover art from the model box and displayed it for years.

  2. The Belle sure looks a lot better than the last time I saw her on Mud Island in Memphis! Well Done NMUSAF!

  3. Just wondering,….is the Memphis Belle operable? I assume it will always be grounded as a static display. What would it take then to get in condition so it could be flown?

  4. Well done! Good to see a classic airframe so carefully restored. She is a very important airplane to the Air Force and to the nation. I’m also glad to see that the Air Force Museum will now have two examples of what can be argued as WWII’s most iconic aircraft on display. Kudos to the restoration staff.

  5. Mike, If you mean the the “Shoo Shoo Baby”, I have heard in a trade the Smithsonian allowed the USAF to have the Belle for the “Shoo Shoo Baby”. The Air Force museum does have possession of the “Swoose”, a B-17D and the oldest intact B-17. They are in the restoration process which could take several more years. It’s one to keep an eye on. It served in the South Pacific nearly the length of WWII. Google it. It has quite a story. My guess is that the Air Force Museum will keep an eye out for another B-17G. What a great place to visit,

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