Restored WWII bomber Memphis Belle makes public debut
By WIRE REPORTS Published: May 17, 2018
DAYTON, Ohio — Hundreds of visitors, including the families of crewmen who flew the famed Army Air Forces bomber into history, turned out at the Air Force Museum to see the restored World War II bomber Memphis Belle.
The plane went on public display at the museum near Dayton, Ohio, for the first time on Thursday morning after a restoration project that required 13 years and 55,000 hours of work.
Linda Morgan, 72, of Crane Hill, Alabama, and widow of pilot Robert K. Morgan Sr., who died in 2004, said the restored bomber “took my breath away.”
“I’ve seen pictures of that plane when it was in tatters and this, it looks better than when it came out of the factory,” she said in an interview with reporters.
Under theatrical lighting and held aloft by three metal poles, the Memphis Belle was surrounded by a strategic bombing exhibit and cases filled with artifacts — many personal items of the crewmen who flew aboard the four-engine bomber on perilous journeys.
Robert K. Morgan Jr., 72, of San Francisco, wore his father’s silver wings and a bracelet he kept during the war.
“It means everything to me and my family that he’s here in spirit,” he said. “It’s just one of those once-in-a-lifetime things.”
After a brief ceremony, visitors crowded around the plane trying to get the best photos with their phones.
The B-17 "Flying Fortress" will anchor an extensive exhibit in the museum's World War II gallery, paying tribute to the thousands of men who served on B-17s on daylight bombing missions over Nazi-occupied Europe.
The Memphis Belle made history as the first U.S. Army Air Forces heavy bomber to survive 25 bombing missions over Germany and occupied France and return to the United States in 1943.
Three B-17s and five P-51s flew over the museum in formation Wednesday in a salute to the World War II bomber.
A public ribbon-cutting was set for Thursday, the 75th anniversary of the crews' final mission.
This story was compiled from reports by Barrie Barber of the Dayton Daily News, Ohio and Mitch Stacy of The Associated Press.