Dayton crews restoring Memphis Belle, famed B-17 bomber

Associated Press


Crews in Ohio are working to restore a famed B-17 bomber from World War II, scraping paint and bending metal to bring back the beauty of the Memphis Belle.

The storied aircraft flew 25 crucial missions over Europe during the war, a rare accomplishment at the time. Now the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton is preparing the plane for display in its World War II Gallery, tentatively scheduled for 2014.

The restoration workers include 20 staff members and 64 volunteers, many of whom make new parts by hand and take pride in working on such a famous aircraft, the Dayton Daily News reported.

“You grow up making models of the Memphis Belle, and then here’s the real thing itself,” said Casey Simmons, a 31-year-old aircraft and power-plant mechanic from Sugarcreek Township.

Only about 50 of the nearly 13,000 B-17s that were built still exist, according to the museum. It has one in display area, two being restored and 13 on loan elsewhere.

The pilot of the Boeing-built Memphis Belle, then-Lt. Robert Morgan, named the aircraft after longtime Memphis, Tenn., resident Margaret Polk, who was his sweetheart before he deployed for war.

“It’s a national treasure, just as an artifact of our country,” museum curator Jeff Duford said. “It represents thousands and thousands of airmen who flew and fought in the heavy bombing campaigns.”

That garners it respect from restorers such as 58-year-old Robert Anderson of Dayton who have gone over it piece by piece or helped catalog the crew signatures etched into the silver-sided plane.

“You see little, small patches and you think they’re shrapnel,” said Anderson, who fabricates sheet metal for the project. “You try to leave them on there. It’s history.”

The volunteers include Leroy Lynn and Peter Esselburne, both retirees and pilots, who craft fabric coverings for the rudder and other control surfaces on the aircraft.

“We do it more carefully than an ordinary everyday project, and we have a lot of everyday ordinary projects,” said Lynn, a retired Wright-Patterson civilian flight-simulator employee from New Carlisle. “We’re constantly reminded of the young kids that flew these things. They were 18 to 22 years old, and a lot of them didn’t come home.”

Visitors who want a peek at the restoration work can see the Memphis Belle as part of a behind-the-scenes museum tour on many Fridays. Sometimes veterans come from hundreds of miles away to view it.

“It’s a very rewarding job,” Simmons said. “You get to see the way they look at this airplane, and you feel what they feel.”

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