Posted tagged ‘air corps’

B-25 : The Pistol Packing Bomber

May 16, 2010

B-25 Mitchell

The North American B-25 Mitchell was an American twin-engined medium bomber manufactured by North American Aviation. It was used by many Allied air forces, in every theater of World War II, as well as many other air forces after the war ended, and saw service across four decades.The B-25 was named in honor of General Billy Mitchell, a pioneer of U.S. military aviation. The B-25 is the only American military aircraft named after a specific person. By the end of its production, nearly 10,000 B-25s in numerous models had been built. These included a few limited variations, such as the United States Navy’s and Marine Corps’ PBJ-1 patrol bomber and the United States Army Air Forces’ F-10 photo reconnaissance aircraft.

Design and development

Flight Performance School also included work in evaluating the performance of this B-25 Mitchell medium bomberThe B-25 was a descendant of the earlier XB-21 (North American-39) project of the mid-1930s. Experience gained in developing that aircraft was eventually used by North American in designing the B-25 (called the NA-40 by the company). One NA-40 was built, with several modifications later being done to test a number of potential improvements. These improvements included Wright R-2600 radial engines, which would become standard on the later B-25.

In 1939, the modified and improved NA-40B was submitted to the United States Army Air Corps for evaluation. This aircraft was originally intended to be an attack bomber for export to the United Kingdom and France, both of which had a pressing requirement for such aircraft in the early stages of World War II. However, those countries changed their minds, opting instead for the also-new Douglas DB-7 (later to be used by the US as the A-20 Havoc). Despite this loss of sales, the NA-40B re-entered the spotlight when the Army Air Corps evaluated it for use as a medium bomber. Unfortunately, the NA-40B was destroyed in a crash on 11 April 1939. Nonetheless, the type was ordered into production, along with the Army’s other new medium bomber, the Martin B-26 Marauder.

Early production

An improvement of the NA-40B, dubbed the NA-62, was the basis for the first actual B-25. Due to the pressing need for medium bombers by the Army, no experimental or service-test versions were built. Any necessary modifications were made during production runs, or to existing aircraft at field modification centers around the world.A significant change in the early days of B-25 production was a re-design of the wing. In the first nine aircraft, a constant-dihedral wing was used, in which the wing had a consistent, straight, slight upward angle from the fuselage to the wing tip. This design caused stability problems, and as a result, the dihedral angle was nullified on the outboard wing sections, giving the B-25 its slightly gull wing configuration. Less noticeable changes during this period included an increase in the size of the tail fins and a decrease in their inward cant.A total of 6,608 B-25s were built at North American’s Fairfax Airport plant in Kansas City, Kansas.A descendant of the B-25 was the North American XB-28, meant to be a high-altitude version of the B-25. Despite this premise, the actual aircraft bore little resemblance to the Mitchell. It had much more in common with the B-26 Marauder.

Operational history

The B-25 first gained fame as the bomber used in the 18 April 1942 Doolittle Raid, in which sixteen B-25Bs led by the legendary Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, attacked mainland Japan four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The mission gave a much-needed lift in spirits to the Americans, and alarmed the Japanese who had believed their home islands were inviolable by enemy troops. While the amount of actual damage done was relatively minor, it forced the Japanese to divert troops for the home defense for the remainder of the war. The raiders took off from the carrier USS Hornet and successfully bombed Tokyo and four other Japanese cities without loss. However, 15 subsequently crash-landed en route to recovery fields in Eastern China. These losses were the result of the task force being spotted by Japanese fishing vessels forcing the bombers to take off 170 mi early, fuel exhaustion, stormy nighttime conditions with zero visibility, and lack of electronic homing aids at the recovery bases. Only one landed intact; it came down in the Soviet Union, where its five-man crew was interned and the aircraft confiscated. Of the 80 aircrew, 69 survived their historic mission and eventually made it back to American lines.Following a number of additional modifications, including the addition of Plexiglas windows for the navigator and radio operator, heavier nose armament, and deicing and anti-icing equipment, the B-25C was released to the Army. This was the second mass-produced version of the Mitchell, the first being the lightly-armed B-25B used by the Doolittle Raiders. The B-25C and B-25D differed only in location of manufacture: -Cs at Inglewood, California, -Ds at Kansas City, Kansas. A total of 3,915 B-25Cs and -Ds were built by North American during World War II.

Although the B-25 was originally designed to bomb from medium altitudes in level flight, it was used frequently in the Southwest Pacific theater (SWPA) on treetop-level strafing and parafrag (parachute-retarded fragmentation bombs) missions against Japanese airfields in New Guinea and the Philippines. These heavily-armed Mitchells, field-modified at Townsville, Australia, by Major Paul I. “Pappy” Gunn and North American tech rep Jack Fox, were also used on strafing and skip-bombing missions against Japanese shipping trying to re-supply their land-based armies. Under the leadership of Lieutenant General George C. Kenney, B-25s of the Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces devastated Japanese targets in the SWPA from 1942 to 1945, and played a significant role in pushing the Japanese back to their home islands. B-25s were also used with devastating effect in the Central Pacific, Alaska, North Africa, Mediterranean and China-Burma-India theaters.Because of the urgent need for hard-hitting strafer aircraft, a version dubbed the B-25G was developed, in which the standard-length transparent nose and the bombardier were replaced by a shorter solid nose containing two fixed .50 in machine guns and a 75 mm M4 cannon, one of the largest weapons fitted to an aircraft, similar to the experimental British Mosquito Mk. XVIII, and German Ju 88P heavy cannon carrying aircraft. The cannon was manually loaded and serviced by the navigator, who was able to perform these operations without leaving his crew station just behind the pilot. This was possible due to the shorter nose of the G-model and the length of the M4, which allowed the breech to extend into the navigator’s compartment.

The B-25G’s successor, the B-25H, had even more firepower. The M4 gun was replaced by the lighter T13E1, designed specifically for the aircraft. The 75 mm gun fired at a muzzle velocity of 2,362 ft/s . Due to its low rate of fire (approximately four rounds could be fired in a single strafing run) and relative ineffectiveness against ground targets, as well as substantial recoil, the 75 mm gun was sometimes removed from both G and H models and replaced with two additional .50 in machine guns as a field modification. The -H also mounted four fixed forward-firing .50 machine guns in the nose, four more fixed ones in forward-firing cheek blisters, two more in the top turret, one each in a pair of new waist positions, and a final pair in a new tail gunner’s position. Company promotional material bragged the B-25H could “bring to bear 10 machine guns coming and four going, in addition to the 75 mm cannon, a brace of eight rockets and 3,000 lb of bombs.”

The B-25H also featured a redesigned cockpit area, with the top turret moved forward to the navigator’s compartment (thus requiring the addition of the waist and tail gun positions), and a heavily modified cockpit designed to be operated by a single pilot, the co-pilot’s station and controls deleted, and the seat cut down and used by the navigator/cannoneer, the radio operator being moved to the aft compartment, operating the waist guns. A total of 1,400 B-25Gs and B-25Hs were built.

The final version of the Mitchell, the B-25J, looked much like the earlier B, C and D, having reverted to the longer nose. The less-than-successful 75 mm cannon was deleted on the J model. Instead, 800 of this version were built with a solid nose containing eight .50 machine guns, while other J-models featured the earlier “greenhouse” style nose containing the bombardier’s position. Regardless of the nose style used, all J-models also included two .50 in guns in a “fuselage package” located directly under the pilot’s station, and two more such guns in an identical package just under the co-pilot’s compartment. The solid-nose B-25J variant carried an impressive total of 18 .50 in guns: eight in the nose, four in under-cockpit packages, two in an upper turret, two in the waist, and a pair in the tail. No other bomber of World War II carried as many guns. However, the first 555 B-25Js (the B-25J-1-NC production block) were delivered without the fuselage package guns, because it was discovered muzzle blast from these guns was causing severe stress in the fuselage;this was cured with heavier fuselage skin patches, while later production runs returned these guns, they were often removed as a field modification for the same reason. In all, 4,318 B-25Js were built.

The B-25 was a safe and forgiving aircraft to fly. With an engine out, 60° banking turns into the dead engine were possible, and control could be easily maintained down to 145 mph . However, the pilot had to remember to maintain engine-out directional control at low speeds after take off with rudder – if this was attempted with ailerons, the aircraft would snap out of control. The tricycle landing gear made for excellent visibility while taxiing. The only significant complaint about the B-25 was the extremely high noise level produced by its engines; as a result, many pilots eventually suffered from various degrees of hearing loss. The high noise level was due to design and space restrictions in the engine cowlings which resulted in the exhaust “stacks” protuding directly from the cowling ring and partly covered by a small triangular fairing. This directed exhaust and noise directly at the pilot and crew compartments. Crew members and operators on the airshow circuit frequently comment that “the B-25 is the fastest way to turn aviation fuel directly into noise”. Many B-25’s now in civilian ownership have been modified with exhaust rings that direct the exhaust through the outboard bottom section of the cowling.

The Mitchell was also an amazingly sturdy aircraft and could withstand tremendous punishment. One well-known B-25C of the 321st Bomb Group was nicknamed “Patches” because its crew chief painted all the aircraft’s flak hole patches with high-visibility zinc chromate paint. By the end of the war, this aircraft had completed over 300 missions, was belly-landed six times and sported over 400 patched holes. The airframe was so bent, straight-and-level flight required 8° of left aileron trim and 6° of right rudder, causing the aircraft to “crab” sideways across the sky.

An interesting characteristic of the B-25 was its ability to extend range by using one-quarter wing flap settings. Since the aircraft normally cruised in a slightly nose-high attitude, about 40 gal of fuel was below the fuel pickup point and thus unavailable for use. The flaps-down setting gave the aircraft a more level flight attitude, which resulted in this fuel becoming available, thus slightly extending the aircraft’s range.

By the time a separate United States Air Force was established in 1947, most B-25s had been consigned to long-term storage. However, a select number continued in service through the late 1940s and 1950s in a variety of training, reconnaissance and support roles. Its principal use during this period was for undergraduate training of multi-engine aircraft pilots slated for reciprocating engine or turboprop cargo, aerial refueling or reconnaissance aircraft. Still others were assigned to units of the Air National Guard in training roles in support of F-89 Scorpion and F-94 Starfire operations. TB-25J-25-NC Mitchell, 44-30854, the last B-25 in the USAF inventory, assigned at March AFB, California as of March 1960[6], was flown to Eglin AFB, Florida, from Turner Air Force Base, Georgia, on 21 May 1960, the last flight by a USAF B-25, and presented by Brig. Gen. A. J. Russell, Commander of SAC’s 822nd Air Division at Turner AFB, to the Air Proving Ground Center Commander, Brig. Gen. Robert H. Warren, who in turn presented the bomber to Valparaiso, Florida Mayor Randall Roberts on behalf of the Niceville-Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce. Four of the original Tokyo Raiders were present for the ceremony, Col. Davy Jones, Col. Jack Simms, Lt. Col. Joseph Manske, and retired Master Sgt. Edwin W. Horton. Donated back to the Air Force Armament Museum circa 1974 and marked as Doolittle’s 40-2344.

Empire State Building incident

On Saturday, 28 July 1945, at 0940 (while flying in thick fog), a USAAF B-25D crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, hitting between the 79th and 80th floor. Fourteen people were killed — 11 in the building, along with Colonel William Smith and the other two occupants of the bomber. Betty Lou Oliver, an elevator attendant, survived the impact and a subsequent accident with the elevator. It was partly because of this incident that towers 1 and 2 of the World Trade Center were designed to withstand the impact of a Boeing 707 aircraft (unfortunately NOT Arab terrorist hijacked airliners).

Variants

B-25

The first version of the B-25 delivered. No prototypes were ordered. The first nine aircraft were built with constant dihedral angle. Due to low stability, the wing was redesigned so that the dihedral was eliminated on the outboard section. (Number made: 24.)
B-25A
Version of the B-25 modified to make it combat ready; additions included self-sealing fuel tanks, crew armor, and an improved tail gunner station. No changes were made in the armament. Re-designated obsolete (RB-25A designation) in 1942. (Number made: 40.)
B-25B
Rear turret deleted; manned dorsal and remotely-operated ventral turrets added, each with a pair of .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns. The ventral turret was retractable, but the increased drag still reduced the cruise speed by 30 mph (48 km/h). 23 were delivered to the RAF as the Mitchell Mk I. The Doolittle Raiders flew B-25Bs on their famous mission. (Number made: 120.)
B-25C
Improved version of the B-25B: powerplants upgraded from Wright R-2600-9 radials to R-2600-13s; de-icing and anti-icing equipment added; the navigator received a sighting blister; nose armament was increased to two .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns, one fixed and one flexible. The B-25C model was the first mass-produced B-25 version; it was also used in the United Kingdom (as the Mitchell II), in Canada, China, the Netherlands, and the Soviet Union. First mass-produced B-25 model. (Number made: 1,625.)
ZB-25C
B-25D
Identical to the B-25C, the only difference was that the B-25D was made in Kansas City, Kansas, whereas the B-25C was made in Inglewood, California. First flew on 3 January 1942. (Number made: 2,290.)
ZB-25D
XB-25E
Single B-25C modified to test de-icing and anti-icing equipment that circulated exhaust from the engines in chambers in the leading and trailing edges and empennage. The aircraft was tested for almost two years, beginning in 1942; while the system proved extremely effective, no production models were built that used it prior to the end of World War II. Many prop aircraft today use the XB-25E system. (Number made: 1, converted.)
ZXB-25E
XB-25F-A
Modified B-25C that tested the use of insulated electrical de-icing coils mounted inside the wing and empennage leading edges as a de-icing system. The hot air de-icing system tested on the XB-25E was more practical. (Number made: 1, converted.)
XB-25G
Modified B-25C in which the transparent nose was replaced by a solid one carrying two fixed .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns and a 75 mm (2.95 in) M4 cannon, then the largest weapon ever carried on an American bomber. (Number made: 1, converted.)
B-25G
To satisfy the dire need for ground-attack and strafing aircraft, the B-25G was made following the success of the prototype XB-25G. The production model featured increased armor and a greater fuel supply than the XB-25G. One B-25G was passed to the British, who gave it the name Mitchell II that had been used for the B-25C. (Number made: 420.)
B-25H

B-25H Barbie III taxiing at Centennial Airport, ColoradoAn improved version of the B-25G. It featured two additional fixed .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns in the nose and four in fuselage-mounted pods; the heavy M4 cannon was replaced by a lighter 75 mm (2.95 in) T13E1. (Number made: 1,000; number left flying in the world: 1.)
B-25J
The last production model of the B-25, often called a cross between the B-25C and the B-25H. It had a transparent nose, but many of the delivered aircraft were modified to have a solid nose. Most of its 14–18 machine guns were forward-facing for strafing missions. 316 were delivered to the Royal Air Force as the Mitchell III. (Number made: 4,318.)
CB-25J
Utility transport version.
VB-25J
A number of B-25s were converted for use as staff and VIP transports. Henry H. Arnold and Dwight D. Eisenhower both used converted B-25Js as their personal transports.

U.S. Navy / U.S. Marine Corps variants

PBJ-1C
Similar to the B-25C for the US Navy; often fitted with airborne search radar and used in the anti-submarine role.
PBJ-1D
Similar to the B-25D for the US Navy and US Marine Corps. Differed in having a single .50 in (12.7 mm) machine gun in the tail turret and beam gun positions similar to the B-25H. Often fitted with airborne search radar and used in the anti-submarine role.
PBJ-1G
US Navy/US Marine Corps designation for the B-25G
PBJ-1H
US Navy/US Marine Corps designation for the B-25H
PBJ-1J
US Navy designation for the B-25J-NC (Blocks -1 through -35) with improvements in radio and other equipment. Often fitted with “package guns” and wingtip search radar for the anti-shipping/anti-submarine role.

Survivors

There are more than one hundred surviving B-25 Mitchells scattered over the world, mainly in the United States. Most of them are on static display in museums, but about 45 are still airworthy.

On 18 April 2010, 17 airworthy B-25s took off from the airfield behind the National Museum of the United States Air Force and flew over in formation to commerate the 68th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid. Four of the surviving members of the Raid were in attendance for the reunion; Cole, Griffin, Hite and Thatcher, although Hite departed before the flyover. Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley, Commander of Air Force Material Command General Donald Hoffman and the Director of the National Museum of the United States Air Force Major General Charles Metcalf were there also.

Specifications (B-25J)

North American B-25 Mitchell

Role Medium bomber

Manufacturer North American Aviation

First flight 19 August 1940

Introduction 1941

Retired 1979 (Indonesia)

Primary users United States Army Air Forces,Royal Canadian Air Force,Royal Air Force,Soviet Air Force

Number built 9,984

Developed from XB-21

Developed into North American XB-28

General characteristics

Crew: six (two pilots, navigator/bombardier, turret gunner/engineer, radio operator/waist gunner, tail gunner
Length: 52 ft 11 in (16.1 m)
Wingspan: 67 ft 6 in (20.6 m)
Height: 17 ft 7 in (4.8 m)
Wing area: 610 sq ft (57 m²)
Empty weight: 21,120 lb (9,580 kg)
Loaded weight: 33,510 lb (15,200 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 41,800 lb (19,000 kg)
Powerplant: 2× Wright R-2600 “Cyclone” radials, 1,850 hp (1,380 kW) each
Performance

Maximum speed: 275 mph (239 kn, 442 km/h)
Cruise speed: 230 mph (200 kn, 370 km/h)
Combat radius: 1,350 mi (1,170 nmi, 2,170 km)
Ferry range: 2,700 mi (2,300 nmi, 4,300 km)
Service ceiling: 25,000 ft (7,600 m)
Rate of climb: 790 ft/min (4 m/s)
Wing loading: 55 lb/ft² (270 kg/m²)
Power/mass: 0.110 hp/lb (182 W/kg)
Armament

Guns: 12-18 × .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns
Hardpoints: 2,000 lb (900 kg) ventral shackles to hold one external Mark 13 torpedo[15]
Rockets: 3,000 lb (1,360 kg) bombs + eight 5 in (130 mm) high velocity aircraft rockets (HVAR)
Bombs: 6,000 lb (2,700 kg)

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Soaring Above Europe: The Memphis Belle

May 7, 2010

Memphis Belle was the nickname of a B-17F Flying Fortress during the Second World War that inspired the making of two motion pictures: a 1944 documentary film, Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, and a 1990 Hollywood feature film, Memphis Belle. It was the first U.S. Army Air Forces heavy bomber to complete 25 combat missions. The plane and crew then returned to the United States to sell war bonds. The original airplane is undergoing extensive restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

Combat history

The Memphis Belle, a Boeing-built B-17F-10-BO, serial 41-24485, was added to the USAAF inventory on July 15, 1942, and delivered in September 1942 to the 91st Bomb Group at Dow Field, Bangor, Maine. It deployed to Prestwick, Scotland, on September 30, 1942, to a temporary base at RAF Kimbolton on October 1, and then to its permanent base at Bassingbourn, England, on October 14. Each side of its fuselage bore the unit identification markings of the 324th Bomb Squadron (Heavy)

Captain Robert Morgan’s crew flew 29 combat missions with the 324th Bomb Squadron, all but four in the Memphis Belle. The aircraft’s 25 missions were:

* November 7, 1942 – Brest, France
* November 9, 1942 – St. Nazaire, France
* November 17, 1942 – St. Nazaire
* December 6, 1942 – Lille, France
* December 20, 1942* – Romilly-sur-Seine, France
* December 30, 1942 – Lorient (flown by Lt. James A. Verinis)
* January 3, 1943 – St. Nazaire
* January 13, 1943 – Lille
* January 23, 1943 – Lorient, France
* February 14, 1943 – Hamm, Germany
* February 16, 1943 – St. Nazaire
* February 27, 1943* – Brest
* March 6, 1943 – Lorient
* March 12, 1943 – Rouen, France
* March 13, 1943 – Abbeville, France
* March 22, 1943 – Wilhemshaven
* March 28, 1943 – Rouen
* March 31, 1943 – Rotterdam, Netherlands
* April 16, 1943 – Lorient
* April 17, 1943 – Bremen, Germany
* May 1, 1943 – St. Nazaire
* May 13, 1943 – Meaulte, France (flown by Lt. C.L. Anderson)
* May 14, 1943 – Kiel, Germany (flown by Lt. John H. Miller)
* May 15, 1943 – Wilhelmshaven
* May 17, 1943 – Lorient
* May 19, 1943* – Kiel (flown by Lt. Anderson)

* Sources disagree on which two of these three missions the Memphis Belle received mission credits for.

Morgan’s crew completed the following missions in B-17s other than the Memphis Belle:

* February 4, 1943 – Emden, Germany (in B-17 DF-H 41-24515 Jersey Bounce)
* February 26, 1943 – Wilhelmshaven (in B-17 41-24515)
* April 5, 1943 – Antwerp, Belgium (in B-17 41-24480 Bad Penny)
* May 4, 1943 – Antwerp (in B-17 41-24527, The Great Speckled Bird)

The aircraft was then flown back to the United States on June 8, 1943, by a composite crew chosen by Eighth Air Force from those who had flown combat in it, led by Capt. Morgan, for a 31-city war bond tour. Morgan’s original co-pilot was Capt. James A. Verinis, who himself piloted the Memphis Belle for one mission. Verinis was promoted to aircraft commander of another B-17 for his final sixteen missions and finished his tour on May 13. He rejoined Morgan’s crew as co-pilot for the flight back to the United States.

Namesake

The plane was named for pilot Robert K. Morgan’s sweetheart, Margaret Polk, a resident of Memphis, Tennessee. Morgan originally intended to call the plane Little One, after his pet name for her, but after Morgan and his copilot, Jim Verinis, saw the movie Lady for a Night, in which the leading character owns a riverboat named the Memphis Belle, he proposed that name to his crew. Morgan then contacted George Petty at the offices of Esquire magazine and asked him for a pinup drawing to go with the name, which Petty supplied from the magazine’s April 1941 issue.

The 91st’s group artist Corporal Tony Starcer reproduced the famous Petty girl nose art on both sides of the forward fuselage, depicting her suit in blue on the aircraft’s port side and in red on its starboard. The nose art later included 25 bomb shapes, one for each mission credit, and 8 swastika designs, one for each German plane claimed shot down by the crew of the Memphis Belle. Station and crew names were stencilled below station windows on the aircraft after its tour of missions was completed.

Postwar history

In his memoirs, Morgan claimed that during his publicity tour, he flew the plane between the Buncombe County Courthouse and the City Hall of Asheville, North Carolina, his home town. Morgan wrote that after leaving the Asheville Regional Airport he decided to buzz the town, telling his copilot, Captain Verinis, “I think we’ll just drive up over the city and give them a little goodbye salute.” Morgan flew north and turned the bomber east down Patton Avenue, a main thoroughfare, toward downtown Asheville. When he observed the courthouse and the city hall (two tall buildings that are only about 50 feet (20 m) apart) dead ahead, he lowered his left wing in a sixty degree bank and flew between the structures. He wrote that the city hall housed an AAF weather detachment whose commanding officer allegedly complained immediately to the Pentagon, but was advised by a duty officer that “Major Morgan…has been given permission to buzz by Lieutenant General Henry Arnold.”

After the war the Flying Fortress was saved from reclamation at Altus Air Force Base, where it had been consigned since August 1, 1945, by the efforts of the mayor of Memphis, Walter Chandler, and the city bought the plane for $350. It was flown to Memphis in July 1946 and stored until the summer of 1949 when it was placed on display at the National Guard armory. It sat out-of-doors into the 1980s, slowly deteriorating due to weather and occasional vandalism.

In the early 1970s, another mayor had donated the historic plane back to the Air Force, but they allowed it to remain in Memphis contingent on it 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. It 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 plane. 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 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 it back for restoration and eventual display at the museum near Dayton, Ohio. The Memphis Belle- The Final Chapter in Memphis, a documentary film by Ken Axmaker, Jr., focuses on the history of the Belle in Memphis and emphasizes the final days and the volunteers who tried to keep one of the most famous aircraft in the world and another Memphis icon from disappearing.

On August 30, 2005, the MBMA announced that a consultant that they hired 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 in Millington, Tennessee on September 30 – October 2, 2005. The Belle arrived safely at the museum in mid-October 2005 and was placed in one of the Museum’s restoration hangars.

While the aircraft was in Memphis, it sat outside unattended; vandals and souvenir hunters removed almost all of the interior components. No instruments were found 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.

The Museum has placed restoration of Memphis Belle near the top of its priorities. In the magazine Friends Journal of the museum’s foundation, Major General Charles D. Metcalf (USAF-Ret.), the director of the museum, stated that it might take 8–10 years to fully restore the aircraft.
Memphis Belle during refurbishment in 2003.By the Spring of 2009, considerable preparatory work had been accomplished, but the fuselage and wings were still disassembled.After stripping the paint from the aft fuselage of the aircraft, hundreds of names and personal messages were found scratched in the aluminum skin. During the plane’s war bond tour, people were allowed to leave their mark on this war-time hero.

Film portrayal

Two B17’s were used in the filming. A former firebomber B-17G-85-DL, serial 44-83546, registered N3703G, was converted into a B-17F configuration by installing a Sperry top turret, early-style tail gunner’s compartment and waist gunner’s positions, and omitting the chin turret. It subsequently appeared in the 1990 fictionalized version of the Memphis Belle story and continues to make air show appearances in that guise. Originally painted with the Warner Bros. movie version of the nose art and markings, the B-17 (owned by David Tallichet) now carries the historic markings found on the actual Memphis Belle. It currently operates out of Geneseo, New York.

The Sally B was also used in filming as the Memphis Belle. She is the last airworthy B17 in the UK and is based at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. She is part of the USAAF WWII Memorial Flight and makes dozens of appearances across the UK and North Europe. She is maintained and run by volunteers, relying solely upon donations.

Other planes named Memphis Belle

* A Republic F-105D Thunderchief (60-0504) from 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Takhli Royal Thai Air Base during the Vietnam War was named Memphis Belle II in honor of the original B-17F. The aircraft claimed two MiG-17 kills in addition to numerous bombing missions, and was the last F-105 to fly. It is currently preserved at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. It was donated in April 1990. Picture of Memphis Belle II
* A Rockwell B-1B (86-0133) was named Memphis Belle. In 1996, Colonel Robert K. Morgan, pilot of the original Memphis Belle, received the opportunity to fly in this aircraft, while it served with the 116th Bomb Wing at Robins AFB, GA.
* A General Dynamics FB-111 (68-0267) was also nicknamed Memphis Belle II for a period during the 1980s. It is currently located at the Strategic Air and Space Museum. Picture of Memphis Belle II
* Two Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses have carried the name Memphis Belle B-52G (59-2594) was named Memphis Belle III and took part in the 1991 Gulf War It was sent to the AMARC in October, 1992, and the first B-52H (60-0001) was named Memphis Belle IV It is currently based at Barksdale Air Force Base, flying for the 2nd Bomb Wing and has seen action in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
* A Lockheed C-141 Starlifter (67-0024) became the Memphis Belle V. It has recently been transferred to the AMARC inventory.
* A Lockheed C-5 Galaxy (69-0025) is named the Memphis Belle X.

Note: all the photographs were taken by me at the Airpower over Wayne Airshow in 2007.  The first photograph was taken and edited by me in Photoshop