Memphis Belle Anniversaires Highlight Aircraft’s Famous Past

MemphisBelle1WARBIRD RADIO – The National Museum of the United States Air Forces reports one of history’s most famous aircraft will celebrate two anniversaries this weekend. Seventy years ago, the B-17F Memphis Belle was flying over the skies of Europe on bombing missions during World War II. Today, the famed aircraft is undergoing restoration at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

On May 17, 1943, Capt. Robert K. Morgan flew the Memphis Belle against a target in Lorient, France, on his 25th officially credited mission (it was the Belle’s 24th combat mission). Two days later, on May 19, 1943, Lt. C. Anderson and his crew flew the Memphis Belle on its 25th officially credited mission to Keil, Germany.  Several decades later in October 2005, the historic aircraft arrived at the museum, where staff began a careful, multi-year conservation and restoration effort – including corrosion treatment, the full outfitting of missing equipment and accurate markings – to bring the aircraft back to pristine condition.

“The museum’s restoration crews have been working long and hard to see that the Memphis Belle is restored as a national icon,” said Roger Deere, chief of the Restoration Division. “We’ve been working on the Belle for more than seven years, and every step brings us closer to getting it on display where all of our visitors can see the aircraft.”

Current plans call for the aircraft to go on display in the museum’s World War II Gallery in late 2014, with some final restoration work to be completed on the exhibit floor. Once on display, the Memphis Belle will join one of the world’s best collections of aircraft and memorabilia from the World War II era.  This comprehensive restoration process is fitting for this storied aircraft. Pilot Robert Morgan named the aircraft after his wartime girlfriend, Margaret Polk, of Memphis, Tenn. Morgan chose the artwork from a 1941 George Petty illustration in Esquire magazine.
The crew and the aircraft beat the odds by completing 25 combat missions, and upon their return to the United States in June 1943, they flew the aircraft across the country on a three-month war bond and morale boosting tour. With the bond tour and the 1944 William Wyler documentary film titled The Memphis Belle – depicting actual combat footage – the aircraft and its crew became widely known and celebrated. In 1990 a major motion picture of the same name added to their fame.

“The Memphis Belle became a national icon, and its crew represented the thousands of Army Air Forces Airmen who were taking the war to the enemy in Europe,” said Jeff Duford, a curator at the museum. “There is enormous significance having the Memphis Belle at the Air Force’s national museum – it gives our visitors a better understanding and appreciation of the service and sacrifice of our military members during World War II.”

For more information, photos and videos of the Memphis Belle, click on the Quick Link posted below.  The National Museum of the United States Air Force is located on Springfield Street, six miles northeast of downtown Dayton. It is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day). Admission and parking are free.

QUICK LINK:  Memphis Belle Photo & Video Gallery

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