There are moments in your life in which you read about history, perhaps sitting in a room with 30 peers with someone lecturing you about David Crockett and the siege on the Alamo.
There are moments that you experience history, such as witnessing A-Rod take a 3rd strike swinging thus hurling the Texas Rangers towards their first World Series.
And then there are moments when you are provided a unique privilege of experiencing history by exploring a relic of the past. For me that relic was none other than the original “Memphis Belle,” a Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress.
Yes, it is the aircraft that the movie portrays, but no, this wasn’t the movie plane. This was the original WWII aircraft, one of the first B-17s to complete 25 missions intact, and the very aircraft made famous by a U.S. Bond tour in 1943.
After the war the Belle eventually found her home to be in Memphis, TN. There she sat in the elements until the 80s, slowly deteriorating, eventually being moved to Mud Island in Memphis, but still not receiving the care such a famous machine deserves.
The fluctuating preservation and deterioration of the Memphis Belle led the National Museum of the United States Air Force to rescue the Belle from further damage. She is now resting in a hangar at Wright Patterson Air Force base in Ohio, benefiting from the skills and knowledge of some of the finest antique aircraft restoration specialists in the nation.
This is where I had the privilege of meeting Memphis Belle and her Chief Restorer. Please take a moment to walk through the photographs I took while viewing this restoration project, and see WWII history being preserved for generations to come!
There are some very interesting photographs that tell a story all their own. You will notice graffiti on the skin of the tail section, which is from the U.S.Bonds Publicity tour in 1943. When the Memphis Belle was parked for public display, people were allowed to walk up and touch this giant war bird, and many chose to leave a mark of their own.
Also take note of the size of the Belly gunner turret, which was made for a man usually no taller than 5’6″ and typically less than 120 lbs. You were basically suspended in a ball shaped armored steel box full of gears, chains and open 50mm machine guns. A nightmare for modern day OSHA!
You can also see some of the expert craftsmanship involved in the restoration. Some of the fuselage supports on the belly of the plane deteriorated from years of weather and neglect have been artfully manufactured to original specifications, appearance, and quality.
These beasts were made largely by hand in American manufacturing plants. Components were assembled in sections, then assembled separately as a unit. Witnessing a restoration of this depth and magnitude is like stepping back in time to those manufacturing facilities where several trades and people came together for a common cause. In a word, surreal. Every inch of this aircraft has a unique story, all a part of a larger story, much like the components that make her up.
I wish I had time to do justice to all of the stories she has to tell, but I digress. For now take a journey through photographs, and go ahead and make plans to visit her on your own, and let her tell the story.
It is worth noting that if you get the opportunity to visit the National Museum of the United States Air Force, you will not only enjoy the largest collection of important aircraft and relics I have seen, but you too could sign up for a very limited and exclusive tour (only on Fridays) of the Memphis Belle Restoration.
The Museum is open 362 days a year. Admission and parking are always free.