The Memphis Belle has received a lot of attention over the years. In 1944, this Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber was the subject of a documentary, entitled Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, that followed an aircrew as they completed their 25th and final mission. Today, we now know that the Memphis Belle was actually the second choice for that documentary — the first was shot down in battle.
Nonetheless, the Memphis Belle was thrust into notoriety and had a place in the public eye. Then, in 1990, that documentary was dramatized and turned into a film, titled Memphis Belle, starring Harry Connick Jr.
Now, you can see the famous bomber itself at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. The bomber’s display was formally opened on May 17, 2018, which marked the 75th anniversary of the plane’s 25th mission. But this B-17 bomber endured a long journey before finally arriving at the museum.
The Memphis Belle being restored at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. In the background is Swoose, another historic B-17.
According to an Air Force release, restoring the bomber has taken over 55,000 man-hours since 2005. She was saved from the scrapyard by the city of Memphis for a grand total of 0 in 1945. After that, the plane spent most of her days stored outside, left exposed to the elements, as she awaited proper preservation. In 2004, the Air Force reclaimed the bomber.
Still, 55,000 hours is a long restoration period — what took so long? Well, the experts weren’t interested in plastering on a pretty paint job and calling it done. Instead, they wanted this iconic plane to look exactly as it did when she flew that famous 25th mission. That was no easy task. One of the hardest parts was finding authentic parts for the plane, or at least period-accurate parts.
The Memphis Belle as she appeared during World War II.
The Memphis Belle, a Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress, was able to carry as many as 17,600 pounds’ worth of bombs and was equipped with as many as 13 M2 .50-caliber machine guns as well as a single .30-caliber machine gun. It had a crew of ten, a top speed of 325 miles per hour, and a maximum range of 4,420 miles.
Of the over 3,400 B-17Fs built, only three survive today — the Memphis Belle is one of those.