, June 9, 1943]]
Memphis Belle was the nickname of a B-17F Flying Fortress during the Second World War that inspired the making of two motion pictures: a 1944 documentary film: Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress and a 1990 Hollywood feature film: Memphis Belle. In May 1943 it became the first U.S. Army Air Forces heavy bomber to complete 25 combat missions. The plane and crew then returned to the United States to sell war bonds..The original airplane is undergoing extensive restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, OH.
The "Memphis Belle", a Boeing-built B-17F-10-BO, serial 41-24485, was added to the USAAF inventory on July 15, 1942, and delivered in September 1942 to the 91st Bomb Group at Dow Field, Bangor, Maine. It deployed to Prestwick, Scotland, on September 30, 1942, to a temporary base at RAF Kimbolton on October 1, and then to its permanent base at Bassingbourn, England, on October 14. It bore the unit identification markings of the 324th Bomb Squadron (Heavy) - DF: A - on its fuselage sides.
Captain Robert Morgan's crew flew 25 combat missions with the 324th Bomb Squadron, all but four in the Memphis Belle. The 25 missions of the Memphis Belle were:
*Sources disagree on which two of these three missions the Memphis Belle received mission credits.
Morgan's crew completed the following missions in B-17s other than the Memphis Belle:
It was then flown back to the United States on June 8, 1943, by a composite crew chosen by Eighth Air Force from those who had flown combat in it, led by Morgan, for a 31-city war bond tour. Capt. Morgan's original co-pilot was Capt. James A. Verinis, who himself flew the Memphis Belle as pilot for one mission. Verinis was promoted to aircraft commander of another B-17 for his final sixteen missions and finished his tour on May 13. He rejoined Morgan's crew for its flight back to the United States as co-pilot.
The plane was named for pilot Robert K. Morgan's sweetheart, Margaret Polk, a resident of Memphis, Tennessee. Morgan originally intended to call the plane Little One, after his pet name for her, but after Morgan and his copilot, Jim Verinis, saw the movie Lady for a Night, in which the leading character owns a riverboat named the Memphis Belle, he proposed that name to his crew. Morgan then contacted George Petty at the offices of Esquire magazine and asked him for a pinup drawing to go with the name, which Petty supplied from the magazine's April 1941 issue.
The 91st's group artist Corporal Tony Starcer reproduced the famous Petty girl nose art on both sides of the forward fuselage, depicting her suit in blue on the aircraft's port side and in red on its starboard. The nose art later included 25 bomb shapes, one for each mission credit, and 8 swastika designs, one for each German plane claimed shot down by the crew of the Memphis Belle. Station and crew names were stencilled below station windows on the aircraft after its tour of missions was completed.
In his memoir, Morgan claimed that during his publicity tour, he flew the plane between the Buncombe County Courthouse and the City Hall of Asheville, North Carolina, his home town. Morgan wrote that after leaving the Asheville Regional Airport he decided to buzz the town, telling his copilot, Captain Verinis, "I think we'll just drive up over the city and give them a little goodbye salute." Morgan flew north and turned the bomber east down Patton Avenue, a main thoroughfare, toward downtown Asheville. When he observed the courthouse and the city hall (two tall buildings that are only about 50 feet (20 m) apart) dead ahead, he lowered his left wing in a sixty degree bank and flew between the structures. He wrote that the city hall housed an AAF weather detachment whose commanding officer allegedly complained immediately to the Pentagon, but was advised by a duty officer that "Major Morgan...has been given permission to buzz by Lieutenant General Henry Arnold."
campaign at Patterson Field during World War II.]]
After the war the Flying Fortress was saved from reclamation at Altus Air Force Base, where it had been consigned since August 1, 1945, by the efforts of the mayor of Memphis, Walter Chandler, and the city bought the plane for $350. It was flown to Memphis in July 1946 and stored until the summer of 1949 when it was placed on display at the National Guard armory. It sat out-of-doors into the 1980s, slowly deteriorating due to weather and occasional vandalism.
In the early 1970s, another mayor had donated the historic plane back to the Air Force, but they allowed it to remain in Memphis contingent on it being maintained. Efforts by the locally-organized Memphis Belle Memorial Association, Inc. (MBMA) saw the aircraft moved to Mud Island in the Mississippi River in 1987 for display in a new pavilion with large tarp cover. It was still open to the elements, however, and prone to weathering. Pigeons would also nest inside the tarp and droppings were constantly needing removal from the plane. Dissatisfaction with the site led to efforts to create a new museum facility in Shelby County. In the summer of 2003 the Belle was disassembled and moved to a restoration facility in Millington, Tennessee for work. In September 2004, however, the National Museum of the United States Air Force, apparently tiring of the ups and downs of the city's attempts to preserve the aircraft, indicated that they wanted it back for restoration and eventual display at the museum near Dayton, Ohio.
On August 30, 2005, the MBMA announced that a consultant that they hired determined that the MBMA would not be able to raise enough money to restore the Belle and otherwise fulfill the Air Force's requirements to keep possession of the aircraft. They announced plans to return the aircraft to the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio after a final exhibition in Millington, Tennessee on September 30 - October 2, 2005. The Belle arrived safely at the museum in mid-October 2005 and was placed in one of the Museum's restoration hangars.
While the aircraft was in Memphis, it sat outside unattended; vandals and souvenir hunters removed almost all of the interior components. No instruments were found in the cockpit, and virtually every removable piece of the aircraft's interior had been scavenged, often severing the aircraft's wiring and control cables in the process.
The Museum has placed restoration of Memphis Belle near the top of its priorities. In the magazine Friends Journal of the museum's foundation, Major General Charles D. Metcalf (USAF-Ret.), the director of the museum, stated that it might take 8-10 years to fully restore the aircraft.
By the Spring of 2009, considerable preparatory work had been accomplished, but the fuselage and wings were still disassembled.
After stripping the paint from the aft fuselage of the aircraft, hundreds of names and personal messages were found scratched in the aluminum skin. During the plane's war bond tour, people were allowed to leave their mark on this war-time hero.
A former firebomber B-17G-85-DL, serial 44-83546, registered N3703G, was converted into a B-17F configuration by installing a Sperry top turret, early-style tail gunner's compartment and waist gunner's positions, and omitting the chin turret. It subsequently appeared in the 1990 fictionalized version of the Memphis Belle story and continues to make air show appearances in that guise. Originally painted with the Warner Bros. movie version of the nose art and markings, the B-17 (owned by David Tallichet) now carries the historic markings found on the actual Memphis Belle. It currently operates out of Geneseo, New York.