Memphis Tour

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• Memphis Belle •

Memphis Belle (B-17), a USAAF Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress whose aircrew was the first in the U.S. Eighth Air Force to complete 25 missions as a crew over Germany and German-occupied Europe.

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The actual Memphis Belle, a Boeing-built B-17F-10-BO, serial 41-24485, was delivered in September 1942 to the 91st Bomb Group at Dow Field, Bangor, Maine. It deployed to Prestwick, Scotland, on September 30, 1942, and then to its permanent base at Bassingbourn, England, on October 14. Captain Robert Morgan's crew flew 25 combat missions with the 324th Bomb Squadron, all but four in the Memphis Belle.

The Memphis Belle flew its 25th and last mission with a different crew on May 19, 1943, to Kiel, Germany. It was then flown back to the United States on June 8, 1943 by Morgan's crew for war bond tours.

The plane was named for pilot Robert K. Morgan's sweetheart, Margaret Polk. The famous *Petty girl nose art was painted by the 91st's group artist Tony Starcer. Source:

*George Brown Petty IV (27 April 1894 – 21 July 1975) was an American pin-up artist. His pin-up art appeared primarily in Esquire and Fawcett Publications's True, but was also in calendars marketed by Esquire, True, and Ridge Tool Company . Petty's Esquire gatefolds originated and popularized the magazine device of centerfold spreads. Reproductions of his work were widely rendered by military artists as nose art decorating warplanes during the Second World War, including the Memphis Belle, known as “Petty Girls”.

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The "Memphis Belle" has recently been relocated to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. In order to visit and view the "Belle," you will need to request a "behind the scenes tour" when you visit the museum.

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Memphis Belle at Mud Island
memphis belle Margaret
Margaret Polk

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Postwar history

After the war the Flying Fortress was saved from reclamation at Altus, Oklahoma by the efforts of the mayor of Memphis, the Hon. Walter Chandler, and the city bought the plane for $350. It was flown to Memphis in July 1946 and stored until the summer of 1949 when it was placed on display at the National Guard armory. It sat out-of-doors into the 1980s, slowly deteriorating due to weather and occasional vandalism.

In the early 1970s another mayor had donated the historic plane back to the Air Force, but they allowed it to remain in Memphis contingent on it being maintained. Efforts by the locally-organized Memphis Belle Memorial Association, Inc. (MBMA) saw the aircraft moved to Mud Island in the Mississippi River in 1987 for display in a new pavilion with roof cover. It was still open to the elements, however, and prone to weathering. Dissatisfaction with the site led to efforts to create a new museum facility in nearby Shelby County. In the summer of 2003 the Belle was disassembled and moved to a restoration facility in Millington, Tennessee for work. In September 2004, however, the National Museum of the United States Air Force, apparently tiring of the ups and downs of the city's attempts to preserve the aircraft, indicated that they wanted it back for restoration and eventual display at the museum near Dayton, Ohio. On August 30, 2005 the MBMA announce that a consultant that they hired determined that the MBMA would not be able to raise enough money to restore the Belle and otherwise fulfill the Air Force's requirements to keep possession of the aircraft. They announced plans to return the aircraft to the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio after a final exhibition in Millington, Tennessee on September 30 - October 2, 2005. The Belle arrived safely at the museum in mid-October 2005 and was placed in one of the Museum's restoration hangars.

The B-17 that portrayed Memphis Belle in the 1990 film at the Cleveland National Air Show in 2004. (Photo courtesy of Shawn Mariani of examination, it was determined that the aircraft was far less complete than originally thought. The interior had been completely gutted by vandals and souvenir hunters. No instruments were found in the cockpit, and virtually every removable piece of the aircraft's interior had been scavenged, often sacrificing the aircraft's wiring and control cables in the process. In addition, a coat of green paint had been liberally applied to the aircraft's interior and throughout the inside of its wings. The Museum has placed restoration of Memphis Belle near the top of its priorities. In the magazine Friends Journal of the museum's foundation, Major General Charles D. Metcalf (USAF-Ret.), the director of the museum, stated that it might take 8-10 years to fully restore the aircraft.

After stripping the paint from the aft fuselage of the aircraft, hundreds of names and personal messages were found scratched in the aluminum skin. During the plane's war bond tour, people were allowed to leave their mark on this war-time hero.

There are unconfirmed reports that during the Memphies Belle's tour of the United States on a promotional program for the Air Force that while being piloted by Asheville Native Robert Morgan he flew the plane between the City Courthouse and the City Hall of Asheville, Nc. The story states that Morgan and his crew, while on a promotional tour, were leaving the Asheville Regional Airport and decided that, being a town hero, he should give the people of Asheville something to remember and have a little fun in the process. Morgan piloted the plane low over the east side of Bowcatcher Mountain, nearly cutting grass as he cleared the mountain top, he then flew the plane down the backside of the mountain toward Downtown Asheville and doing a partial roll, flew the plane between the Asheville City Courthouse and the City hall (two tall buildings that are only about fifty feet apart). Morgan was admonished by his superiors but the act was so impressive that no charges were ever filled.

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