No matter what anyone tells ya, our magazine goes to the extreme for getting you features. And even if this weren’t our April issue we would still give you a fantastic feature on this aircraft, as it’s one of our favorites and truly an off-road marvel.
The Boeing B-17 heavy bomber is probably the most iconic airplane of World War II, built at a time when airplane and automotive technology was growing rapidly. Designed in 1934, the basic B-17 went through many changes and upgrades in its 10-year production life, just as our 4x4s do while on the OE production lines. Designed for war and not creature comfort, the craft was all business, from the .50-caliber machine guns sticking out the tail to the Norden bombsight housed in the Plexiglas nose. A crew of 10 young men averaging 20 years of age flew these beasts across the European Theater and other fronts, risking their lives daily to stop the spread of fascism. This feature is really about that Greatest Generation of men and women who are rapidly disappearing, as well as the plane that changed a nation.
“A lasting legacy of the Greatest Generation”
Known as the Flying Fortress due to the massive firepower from its 10 or more .50-caliber machine guns, the airplane has mechanical features that rival modern rockcrawlers. The 56-inch main tires help it float over rocks and dirt fields, and it is at home on real tarmac as on a dirt or grass strip. While the heavyweight beast weighs in around 75,000 pounds fully loaded, the nitrogen charged struts (while not Fox or King) hold up the entire weight at only three points, and that’s even when it slams back on the ground after a mission. The four 1,200hp engines outrival any dragster or monster truck ever made, and they are supercharged and turbocharged! While the controls are all mechanically operated, the hydraulics still control brakes and cowl flaps for engine cooling. The fuel cells are self-sealing rubber bladders with multiple fuel pumps—more high-tech than any rock racer.
One of the unique features of this particular B-17 is that unlike most others, it is an original flying example, not a full-on restoration. This plane, like most of our own old rigs, hasn’t received a frame-up resto, just loving care like a great barn find, with cosmetics carefully applied and original mechanicals still purring away since 1945.
Joe Krzeminski is Director of the Military Aircraft Restoration Corporation, flight engineer, and Chief of Everything Important , who has cared for and coddled the old girl for the company since it was saved from firebombing duty in 1982. He invited us up for one final look to see a lasting legacy of the Greatest Generation.
Be sure to see all of the outtakes and detail shots on our website www.4WOR.com, as well as the videos from the flight!
1945 Douglas B-17G 44-83546
(converted to B-17F configuration in 1987)
Engines (4): Wright Cyclone R-1820-97, 9-cyl. radial air-cooled turbo-supercharged
Displacement (ci): 1,823
Horsepower (each): 1,200 @ 2,400 rpm
Transmission: Prop gear reduction, 16:9
Transfer Case: Blower ratio, 7.134:1
Front Axle: 2 retractable gear struts
Rear Axle: Center lockable retractable strut
Springs & Such: Nitrogen-charged struts and fat tires
Tires & Wheels: 56-inch Goodyear mains, 26-inch tail
Steering: 15-ft vertical stabilizer in the air, tail wheel on ground
Other Stuff: Full instrumentation
Span (ft): 103
Length (ft): 74
Height (ft): 19
Weight (lb): 36,500 empty, 74,900 loaded
Max. Speed (mph): 325 @ 25,000 ft
Range (mi): 2,800
Bomb Load (lb): 8,000
Total Produced: 12,731 (1935-1945, all models)
Aircraft Lost in combat: 4,500
Surviving Aircraft: 47
Airworthy Amount: 11 or so
Manufacturers: Boeing, Douglas, Lockheed-Vega
Which Belle Is It?
Our subject plane is the Movie Memphis Belle, which is not the original Memphis Belle. The distinction is important to both planes and to the two movies of the same named plane. Confusing? Not really, once you know the difference.
In 1943 the war was raging over the skies in Europe, with only the British bombing at night and the Americans during the day. Airplane losses and casualties were high, and morale was at an all-time low. The 25 mission limit was introduced to help morale, as that was considered a tour of duty and crews were sent home. Unfortunately many crews and planes never made that magic number, even though many went on for 50 or more missions. However, the War Department wanted a morale-boosting movie made of a crew achieving the magic number, and enlisted famed Hollywood director William Wyler to make it so.
In April 1943 the Memphis Belle and crew made it safely back from her 25th mission, a raid over Germany. With much fanfare they were sent home to the U.S. with her crew on a three-month-long War Bound tour. The movie The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress was released in 1944 and documented life and death aboard a B-17 of the 8th Air Force in England. The engrossing film was a hit and eventually ended up being selected to the National Film Registry.
Fast-forward to 1990, when the movie Memphis Belle was released. Starring Matthew Modine and Harry Connick Jr., it was a fictional tale about the making of the original documentary movie. In a unique twist, William Wyler’s daughter Catherine Wyler produced the new movie. Even stranger was that Catherine’s uncle was David Tallichette, a successful businessman, pilot, and owner of an original, airworthy B-17. Tallichette also owned Military Aircraft Restoration Corporation (MARC) and was a pilot of a B-17 of the 100th Bomb Group during WWII with 22 missions under his belt by war’s end.
After the war Tallichette built up a formidable collection of aircraft as well as other business ventures. He purchased the plane in 1982, gradually restoring it back to WWII configuration. Even up until the time of his recent passing, Tallichette still piloted his favorite plane to air shows around the country. The Tallichette family retains the Belle and the airplane collection in his honor.
Since the original Memphis Belle was undergoing restoration after being neglected for many years, Tallichette’s B-17 was selected to star in the 1990 movie. Five other flyable B-17s were located and flown over to England to be used in the movie too. But the Movie Memphis Belle shown here was the star of the flick, and since then she has worn the name with pride, touring the nation after flying back from England just like the original.