Pooler – About a month ago, I was asked for some photos I took of the National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force‘s B-17 arrival for use in a book being published about the aircraft and its restoration. After finding the digital originals and dropping them off at the museum, I started thinking about how much of a change the aircraft has undergone since its arrival at the museum in 2009 and that in turn led to this blog post.
The National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force’s B-17 is a B-17G, serial 44-83814. By the time 44-83814 was delivered, World War II was in its closing stages so it never saw combat. After the war ended, it saw civilian service in both the United States and Canada. Picking up a US civil aviation registration of N66571, it flew with California Atlantic Airways from 1951-1953. From 1953-1971 it flew with a Canadian registration of CF-HBP and was owned by Kenting Aviation Ltd. out of Toronto, Ontario. Kenting Aviation used retired World War II aircraft for mapping and surveying duties; as CF-HBP, 44-83814 was one of those aircraft. From 1971 to 1982, it resumed its US registration of N66571 and flew with Arnold Kolb Black Hills Aviation as a fire fighting tanker. After its service as an aerial tanker was over, it was put on static display at the Pima Air Museum in Arizona as 44-83814 until 1984. On 25 April 1984, it was put into long term storage with the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, where it remained until 15 January 2009 when it was delivered to the National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force in Pooler, GA.
44-83814 has been undergoing restoration by volunteers since it arrived at the museum, but not as 44-83814. Instead, it is being restored as 43-39049, an aircraft that did see combat action during World War II and had a connection to the Savannah area. Scrapped after it returned stateside from action in World War II, 43-39049 was the 5,000th aircraft to be processed through Hunter Field in Savannah for service in the European Theater. Additionally, during 1944 the people of Chatham County raised $500,000 to build a B-17 and train it’s crew; it just so happened that it turned out that aircraft was 43-39049. In honor of the fundraising effort, 43-39049 was named “The City of Savannah.” As part of the delivery and processing, it carried lettering on the fuselage recognizing that it was the “5,000th Aircraft processed through Hunter Field, GA.” As you can see in the photos above, the bomber arrived in pieces, but was quickly moved into the museum and reassembled for restoration, an effort which, although still ongoing, has radically altered its appearance.
Part of the restoration efforts included work by some Savannah area amateur radio operators to restore the aircraft’s radio equipment. As a result of their efforts, the “City of Savannah” has a fully operational BC-348 receiver. I understand from those more knowledgeable of the period tube gear that the transmitter has the potential to be restored as well. There are also provisions to set up a modern amateur radio station at the B-17’s radio operator position for use in special event stations related to the military and the museum using the callsign WW2COS, recognizing both World War II and the bomber’s name. I’ve had the opportunity on several occasions to operate from the “City of Savannah” and I can honestly say it is both a sobering experience and an honor.
If you’re interested in learning more about the “City of Savannah” and its restoration, B-17 Flying Fortress Restoration: The Story of a World War II Bomber’s Return to Glory in Honor of the Veterans of the Mighty Eighth Air Force by Jerry McLaughlin, the restoration project manager is scheduled for publication in May. I’m truly looking forward to reading more about the restoration project. I assisted some amateur radio operators that worked on the restoration of some of the aircraft’s radio equipment, but my job moved from Rincon to Brunswick shortly after the work began, which meant that I was rarely around when they were working on the radio gear. For more information on the book and its publication date, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.