Memphis Belle gets her instrument panel, 2018 display date

  • Sep 25, 2015 2:20pm GMT
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(Dayton, OH – September 25, 2015) 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 today.

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 today’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.” Skipper showed media a photo of the coffee table from which the missing panel was retrieved, as he shared the long and colorful story of its post-war survival.

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.”

Krista Strider, the museum’s Deputy Director and Senior Curator, announced that the aircraft will go on display in the museum’s World War II Gallery on May 17, 2018, on the 75th anniversary of the Belle’s 25th and final combat mission. The Memphis Belle, considered by enthusiasts to be the “holy grail” of B-17’s, 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, Tennessee. 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.