The Memphis Belle. Arguably the most famous bomber – possibly the most famous of the named aircraft – of the Second World War. So named for Captain Robert Morgan’s girlfriend of Memphis, Tennessee, the legendary Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress and her crew made history in the skies over Europe from 1942-1943. Her story has been told countless times, and two major films about the Belle and her crew followed.
In May 1942, the Memphis Belle completed her landmark 25th mission in Europe, and her crew flew her back to the US the next month. After arriving stateside, they began a cross-country tour in an effort to pump up morale at home and sell a few war bonds.
Then after the war ended, the Belle spent several decades in various locations around Memphis, but never received the TLC she desperately needed after being stripped down by folks scavenging her instruments and other components. The National Museum of the United States Air Force stepped in about a decade ago and recovered the Memphis Belle to their remarkable Dayton, Ohio museum.
The Belle is a lucky one, as just a handful of the almost 13,000 B-17s are left – and even fewer in flying condition. She’s been one of the priorities of the Museum since her arrival, with a passionate group dedicated to seeing her return to glory. One of the more interesting finds during the restoration process was the discovery of signatures carved into the metal skin, which was apparently permissible whilst on the tour of the US. Evidently the old girl still has new tales to tell even long after her combat days are over.
The Museum has taken on quite a monumental task with the painstakingly detailed restoration process. Yet if their previous projects are anything to go by, then the Memphis Belle is in very capable hands and will take her rightful place among the other legendary aircraft of the USAF.
(Featured Photo Courtesy of NMUSAF)
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