DAYTON, Ohio — Officials from the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force donated the pilot’s instrument panel from the Boeing B-17F Memphis Belle to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force during a ceremony last week.
The Memphis Belle is one of the most famous aircraft in World War II history. In May 1943 it became the first U.S. Army Air Forces heavy bomber to complete 25 missions over Europe and return to the United States.
Several decades later in October 2005, the historic aircraft arrived at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, near Dayton, Ohio, 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.
One of those missing parts was the pilot’s instrument panel, which was in the possession of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler, Ga. During last week’s program in the Air Force museum’s restoration hangar, Henry Skipper, president/CEO of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, said his museum is happy to assist in the restoration of the historic aircraft.
“It’s not every day you get to help piece together such a large part of World War II history,” Skipper said. “The Memphis Belle and her crew were the first bomber and crew to complete their missions and return to the U.S., and we’re very honored to be a part of making this famous airplane whole again.”
Roger Deere, chief of the Restoration Division at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, is excited to install the missing piece into the full instrument panel.
“The museum’s restoration crews have been working long and hard to see that the Memphis Belle is restored as a national icon,” Deere said. “We’ve been working on the Belle for nearly 10 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 May 2018. 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 National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. “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.”
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, is the world’s largest military aviation museum. With free admission and parking, the museum features more than 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles and thousands of artifacts amid more than 17 acres of indoor exhibit space. Each year about one million visitors from around the world come to the museum.