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Engine Primer Knob
The B-17F "Memphis Belle’s" engine primer knob from the co-pilot’s side panel. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Original part from B-17F Memphis Belle® returns home

Posted 2/28/2013   Updated 2/28/2013 Email story   Print story


by Rob Bardua
National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

2/28/2013 - DAYTON, Ohio -- Young Airman Ralph Barrett had no idea what that strange looking part he had found in Memphis was, but it looked interesting so he picked it up and decided to hang onto it.

The part eventually made it to his tool box at home and remained there unseen for more than 40 years.

But according to Barrett, while cleaning out his tool box a couple of years ago, he saw the piece again and instantly remembered where it was from.

"I was in flight engineer school at the Tennessee Air National Guard in Memphis and one day in the mid-1960s I found this part laying on the ground there and thought 'what in the world is this?'" Barrett said. "I just saw the word 'primer' was stamped on it and what did that mean?"

The B-17F Memphis Belle had been on display on the grounds of the Army National Guard Armory a few miles away and Air National Guardsmen would perform periodic maintenance on it, but Barrett wouldn't make a connection between the part and the world-renowned aircraft until a few years ago when another B-17 flew into the Gallatin Airport, near Nashville, to sell rides to the public.

"That's when I figured out what the thing really was," said Barrett.

The part that Barrett had all these years turned out to be the Memphis Belle's engine primer knob from the co-pilot's side panel - something the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force had been searching for in their efforts to restore the aircraft. After seeing a documentary on the Memphis Belle on TV and doing more research online, Barrett learned that the museum was looking for original parts from the aircraft and made arrangements to turn the knob in to the museum.

According to the museum's Restoration Chief Roger Deere, finding original parts for the Memphis Belle has been quite a challenge.

"It is rare to find original parts for World War II era aircraft, and even rarer for original parts to be returned on world famous aircraft such as the Memphis Belle," said Deere, who is in need of many more original parts from the Memphis Belle, including the left-hand instrument panel and data plate. "We are extremely grateful to Mr. Barrett for returning the engine primer knob and would like to highly encourage others who have original Memphis Belle parts to return them as well."

Both Deere and Barrett agree that these parts are out there and identifying them may be half the battle. Some may be forgotten or lying in one's parents' or grandparents' attic, others sold in garage sales or even considered to be trash by those who are unaware of what the item really is.

For Barrett though, once he recognized what he had, it was just a matter of doing the right thing to help complete the restoration of the aircraft, and he urges others to do the same as well.

"What good is a part to somebody -- it's not like I'm going to put it on my car or my airplane or whatever," Barrett said. "They just need to turn them in and keep the plane original."

For more information on the Restoration Division or to donate an item, please contact the Restoration Division Chief at

3/12/2013 11:11:05 AM ET
When the B-17F Memphis Belle was transferred from the Memphis Belle Memorial Association to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force the trademark that the Memphis Belle Memorial Association had in place was also transferred with it. This trademark is registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and simply protects the NMUSAF from those who might try to profit commercially by using the name. This is not a copyright issue.
Public Affairs Division, National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
3/7/2013 1:57:30 PM ET
Am glad I researched this before I got upset. A search of the registered trademarks listed online at the US Patent Office confirms that Memphis Belle is a registered trademark originally registered by MEMPHIS BELLE MEMORIAL ASSOCIATION INC. NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION. Most likely when posession of the plane was transfered to the Air Force Museum the trademarks were also transfered but that is a guess on my part.
Tim Logemann, IL
3/4/2013 10:05:57 AM ET
So they're gonna get rid of the nose art right I mean with the crack-down on all the offensive material that pervades our culture surely this piece of history is no exception.
Major Leo Fended, Fighter Country USA
3/2/2013 7:26:14 PM ET
i really believe the Air force museum has gone beyond the scope in their copyright of using the Memphis Belle. They have Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby in their too. Did they get that name on a copyright too How about Strawberry Bitch the B-24 The Memphis Belle was bought and paid for in 1941 or 42 by the citizens of the United States not to be owned by the Air Force museum or any other entity. Taxpayers built the aircraft and purchased war bonds to assist in building others. It's ridiculous how the movie version now being flown by Liberty has to have the name in script and the same color bathing suit on both sides This is just another example of too much power by our government. They ALL forget they work for us the citizens. We don't work for them. Copyright indeed
Marty Potts, Bryan Ohio
3/1/2013 7:25:20 AM ET
That's not a copyright symbol it's a registered trademark. I am sure some lawyer somewhere decided it had to be there.
Scott , Eglin
3/1/2013 1:03:42 AM ET
The FODDOP recovery stats are going to look good this month.
Donald Keedic, Fuel Cell
2/28/2013 4:12:30 PM ET
When did we start adding copyright marks in headlines of Air Force news stories
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