"Mission accomplished. When can you come and get her?"
These were the words in an email from Dr. Dik Daso, Curator of Modern Military Aircraft at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, to Dr. Walter Brown, the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum’s CEO at the time.
That email set in stone the museum’s acquisition of the B-17 Flying Fortress they had waited over 12 years to get.
The B-17 arrived at its new permanent home, The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, on January 15, 2009. It was renamed City of Savannah after the original, the 5,000th airplane to be processed through Hunter Army Airfield and to support Allied forces in Europe during World War II.
Jerry McLaughlin, B-17 Project Manager, explains the significance of the Flying Fortress and why it was so important for the museum to find and display it:
“The B-17 was the bomber most affiliated with the major air war in Europe during WWII conducted by the 8th Air Force. Over 100,000 American airmen fought in these airplanes from 1942 until 1945,” he says.
“Nearly fifty percent of these airmen, officers, and enlisted men, did not return from missions. Approximately half of those who did not return were killed, the other half were made prisoners of war and lead dreadful lives in German prison camps.”
With a mission to preserve the legacy of and educate on the brave airmen and women who served in the 8th Air Force, it was vital for the museum to obtain such a major part of WWII history.
The museum immediately set a goal to make it the best B-17 exhibition in the world through a restoration to full combat configuration, including operational systems and components. Already it is the centerpiece of the museum and undergoing restoration in the Combat gallery.
On Saturday, June 21, the museum took its next steps in the restoration project. Functioning turrets are necessary in a full restoration project because each turret mounted machine guns that were used to protect the aircraft from enemy attackers.
The goal was to begin installation of the upper turret support system and to run for the first time, the ball turret that was installed in April under electrical power.
“Saturday’s event was a major technical challenge for the volunteer restoration team,” says McLaughlin. “In the case of the upper turret, the technical team was able to determine an alternative method to install the upper turret structure that will be implemented in the next several weeks. The lower turret team worked out a procedure that will have that turret working under electrical power in one week.”
Since 2009 the support for the B-17 restoration has only grown with WWII veterans traveling from all over to see the City of Savannah B-17 Flying Fortress and being effected and honored by the museum’s determination to restore her.
“The interest and support for the project is overwhelming,” states McLaughlin. “Thousands more visitors who are not WWII veterans stop the volunteers doing the restoration to ask questions and tell us about relatives who flew on B-17’s in WWII.”