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Home > Fact Sheets > Boeing B-17D "The Swoose"


Posted 7/28/2009 Printable Fact Sheet
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Boeing B-17D
Early B-17D at Wright Field. The "D" model was the last B-17 series to have a small "shark-fin" tail and underside "bathtub" gun position. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Note: This aircraft is currently undergoing restoration. You can view the restoration progress by participating in the museum's Behind the Scenes Tour. Additional information about the aircraft's restoration is available on the Restoration Projects page.

This aircraft is the oldest surviving B-17 Flying Fortress and the only D model in existence. Originally named Ole Betsy, this B-17D participated in several bombing missions in the desperate weeks after Pearl Harbor. Later named The Swoose, it also served as a transport for the commander of Allied air forces in the Southwest Pacific, Lt. Gen. George Brett. 

The Army Air Corps accepted this aircraft and assigned it to the 19th Bombardment Group at March Field, Calif., in April 1941. In May it participated in the first mass aircraft flight from the mainland U.S. to Hawaii. In September, the aircraft flew from Hawaii to the Philippines in the longest mass flight to date. 

Within hours of the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941, Ole Betsy flew on the first U.S. combat mission in the Philippines. During the following three weeks, it struck at the Japanese forces invading the Philippines. After transferring to Java, it continued to fly combat missions. 

On Jan. 11, 1942, three Japanese fighters caused heavy damage to Ole Betsy -- but lost two of their own in the process -- during a running 35-minute engagement off the coast of Borneo. Maintenance personnel in Australia replaced the damaged tail with one from another B-17D, replaced the engines, and converted the aircraft into an armed transport. The new pilot, Capt. Weldon Smith, gave it a new nickname after a then-popular song about a half-swan, half-goose called the "Swoose." 

In the spring of 1942, Capt. Frank Kurtz, the personal pilot for Lt. Gen. George Brett, took over The Swoose. (His daughter, famed actress Swoosie Kurtz, was named after the aircraft.) The Swoose traveled to forward air bases in the combat zone, and sometimes the crew had to man the guns against enemy fighter attack. The aircraft also set two point-to-point speed records and carried several famous passengers, including Lt. Commander Lyndon B. Johnson (future president of the United States). 

Gen. Brett came back to the United States in the summer of 1942 and brought The Swoose with him. The aircraft was stripped of weaponry and unnecessary equipment, overhauled and used as his personal high-speed transport until he retired in late 1945. Remarkably, The Swoose had perhaps the unique distinction of being in operational service from Pearl Harbor to the end of the war. 

The Smithsonian Institution accepted possession of The Swoose in the late 1940s and it remained in storage until the National Museum of the United States Air Force acquired it in 2008. After a complete restoration, The Swoose will be placed on display at the museum.

TECHNICAL NOTES (B-17D bomber configuration):
One .30-cal. and six .50-cal. machine guns and 4,800 lbs. of bombs
Engines: Four Wright R-1820-65 turbo-supercharged radials of 1,200 hp each
Maximum speed: 323 mph
Ceiling: 37,000 ft.
Range: 3,400 miles

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