DAYTON, Ohio — The B-17F Memphis Belle – the first U.S. Army Air Forces heavy bomber to return to the United States after completing 25 combat missions over occupied Europe – was recently moved from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s Restoration Hangar to the museum’s World War II Gallery as work continues to progress on the new exhibit.
Although the iconic aircraft is now inside the WWII Gallery, it will continue to remain out of public view until it is unveiled in a new exhibit following a ribbon cutting ceremony on the morning of May 17, 2018 — exactly 75 years after its crew finished their last mission in the war against Nazi Germany on May 17, 1943.
The new exhibit will tell the complete story of the Memphis Belle and address the many myths associated with the aircraft, according to museum officials.
Artifacts will be on display from seven of the crewmembers, including several war-time uniforms, a flight suit, combat boots, flying goggles, dog tags, pilot’s wings, and other rank insignia.
In addition, rare color archival footage — some of which has never been seen by the public before — will be shown in the exhibit, museum officials report.
Surrounding the Memphis Belle exhibit will be a new Strategic Bombardment in Europe exhibit featuring a digitally animated map of the strategic bombing campaign; two Medals of Honor; items worn and used on significant missions; artifacts from bombing campaign leaders; a bomber top turret and ball turret; and photos.
According to National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Curator Jeff Duford, the new Memphis Belle exhibit and surrounding Strategic Bombardment exhibit will allow visitors to understand more about the thousands of bomber crews, maintainers, and others supporting the bomber mission, whose service and sacrifice helped win World War II.
“In addition to seeing the magnificent Memphis Belle aircraft on display, visitors will see artifacts used by the Memphis Belle crewmembers, and many of these objects have not been in the same place together with the aircraft since the war in 1943,” said Duford. “The Strategic Bombardment exhibit will showcase the ‘best of the best’ artifacts in our collection that relate to this fascinating and engaging story.”
These priceless artifacts will be displayed in new custom designed cases that were handmade by the museum’s Exhibits Division, which also designed and fabricated each of the individual artifact mounts inside the cases. Together, the cases and the artifact mounts present the artifacts in the most visually appealing manner, while still ensuring their protection and preservation, museum officials explain.
Although exhibit designing may sound like a relatively simple task, it is a lot more complex than one might think, said Exhibits Division Chief Greg Hassler.
“Creating an exhibit is like a puzzle within a puzzle because you only have a certain amount of space to tell a particular story, and then within that space you have to select the most meaningful artifacts, but also ones that will fit inside your exhibit area,” he said. “We’re a one-stop shop in the Exhibits Division with staff who specialize in designing, fabricating and installing all of the exhibits, lighting and railings in the museum, and we can even print our own large graphics and text panels – all with the goal of delivering captivating exhibits that tell the Air Force story and pay tribute to those who served.”
The new Memphis Belle exhibit will open with a three-day celebration on May 17-19, 2018 that will include a World War II-era aircraft static display featuring two B-17G Flying Fortresses; more than 130 World War II reenactors performing war-time skits and showcasing their memorabilia; more than 20 vintage military and civilian vehicles, as well as other artifacts, music from the era, guest speakers, and book signings. In addition, both Memphis Belle films (1944 and 1990 versions) will be shown in the Air Force Museum Theatre.
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 19 acres of indoor exhibit space. Each year about 1 million visitors from around the world come to the museum.