After 59 years in her namesake city, the B-17 “Memphis Belle” is on the move again.
In spring of this year the Memphis Belle Memorial Association made the decision to give the airplane to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
Strictly speaking, the airplane always has belonged to the Air Force, although her location in Memphis was a point of pride and honor, said Andy Pouncey, president of the memorial association. “Memphis Belle” was the first B-17 to complete 25 missions during World War II — and with the same 10-man crew. It was named for a girlfriend of pilot Robert Morgan. It flew into Memphis in 1946 after having been rescued from a bone yard. The aircraft spent four years in restoration, then went on display.
“First it was out in the open and then later it was moved to Mud Island, under the shelter,” Pouncey recalled. “It was a Memphis landmark. People have fond memories of driving down the street with their parents and there was the Belle.”
The elements took their toll on the grand dame of the air, and a drive was started to get the airplane into a climate-controlled museum.
A feasibility study done at the request of the Air Force determined that, despite the best efforts of the good people of Memphis, the Memphis Belle Memorial Association and donations from the millions of people who visited the airplane, the money needed to build a museum could not be raised in an expedient manner.
“We are talking $10 million to $12 million here,” said Pouncey.
The move is in the best interest of the aircraft, he said, although he’s sorry to see her leave the city.
Moving the airplane to the Air Force museum was the last wish of Col. Morgan. In April 2004, just a month before his death, he told newspaper reporters that he wanted “Memphis Belle” to be in the Air Force museum.
His widow, Linda Morgan, wrote letters to local newspapers, talked to state and federal officials, as well as officials from the Air Force, and started a petition to have the aircraft moved.
“It was Bob’s last wish,” she said. “It must have been a very difficult decision for the Memphis Belle Memorial Association to decide to give the plane back to the Air Force for safekeeping.”
As this issue was going to press, the airplane was being dismantled and loaded onto trucks and into cargo planes for transportation to the museum.
There is talk of flying the fuselage of the B-17 aboard a C-5 that also bears the name “Memphis Belle” in honor of the flying fortress.