(01) Why is the "Memphis Belle"® so unique?The Memphis Belle, a B-17F Flying Fortress, is one of the most famous aircraft in history. In May 1943 it became the first U.S. Army Air Forces heavy bomber to complete 25 missions over Europe and return to the United States. At the time, completing 25 missions was an important milestone in a combat tour - it meant that the Airmen could come home.
Upon its return to the United States in June 1943, the Memphis Belle's crew flew the aircraft across the country on a three-month war bond and morale boosting tour. With the bond tour and the 1944 William Wyler documentary film titled "The Memphis Belle" -- depicting actual combat footage -- the aircraft and its crew became widely known and celebrated. In 1990 a major motion picture of the same name added to their fame.
Additional information about the Memphis Belle is available on the museum's website at www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=6740.
(02) How did the "Memphis Belle"® get its name?The pilot of the Memphis Belle, then-Lt. Robert Morgan, named the aircraft after his wartime girlfriend, Margaret Polk, of Memphis, Tenn. Morgan chose the artwork from a 1941 George Petty illustration in Esquire magazine.
(03) When did the "Memphis Belle"® arrive at the museum?The Boeing B-17F Memphis Belle arrived at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in October 2005. It has been undergoing a full restoration since that time.
(04) How did the museum obtain the "Memphis Belle"®?The Memphis Belle was located in Memphis, Tenn., from 1946 until 2005. The Memphis Belle Memorial Association Inc., the Memphis Belle War Memorial Foundation and Memphis community were given the opportunity to develop, fund and implement plans for the proper restoration and exhibit of the Belle. However, they were unable to do so, so the aircraft was recalled to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in 2005. As a prominent and famous part of the national collection of the U.S. Air Force, the Memphis Belle deserves a level of care and public visibility befitting its proud history and identity as an icon of American air power.
(05) I’ve seen the "Memphis Belle"® at air shows. Is it the original?No, the B-17 with "Memphis Belle" markings seen at many air shows is not the original aircraft. It is a later model B-17 which was used in the movie "The Memphis Belle." The original Memphis Belle is located at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, where it is undergoing restoration.
(06) How long is the restoration expected to last? When will the "Memphis Belle"® be placed on display?The complete exterior and interior restoration of the Memphis Belle is expected to take several more years. Plans call for the aircraft to be placed on display in the museum's World War II Gallery in spring 2018.
(07) Initially the museum released that the "Memphis Belle"® would be on display in late 2014/early 2015. Why has the restoration been delayed?All of the museum's restoration timeline projections are preliminary. However, as we move forward, we are better able to project anticipated completion dates. While the museum tentatively projected the Memphis Belle to be placed on display in late 2014/early 2015, a variety of factors, including the time needed to efficiently complete both the exterior and interior restoration, as well as the manpower necessary to finish restoration projects needed for the museum's new fourth building and other tasks, resulted in a later roll-out date than originally anticipated. Plans now call for the aircraft to be placed on display in the museum's World War II Gallery in spring 2018.
(08) Can I see the aircraft while it is being restored?Yes, visitors who are interested in seeing the Memphis Belle during the restoration process must sign up for the museum's Behind the Scenes Tours. The tours take place at 12:15 p.m. every Friday (some exceptions) and give visitors a look at the museum's restoration hangars. The tour is free, participants must be at least 12 years old, and advanced registration is required. Register online or call (937) 656-9436.
The museum also offers online updates on the Memphis Belle restoration process on its Restoration Projects page.
(09) Will the aircraft be restored to airworthy status?The Memphis Belle will be restored as close to original condition as possible and will be for static display purposes only due to its historical significance. While most of the aircraft at the museum have the potential to be made airworthy, our conservation and restoration work is directed at preserving the historical integrity and accuracy of an aircraft, rather than achieving modern airworthiness. In preserving historical accuracy, we choose to use original parts that may be unserviceable or non-airworthy, rather than modern substitutes. The Memphis Belle, for example, will use wiring made to original wartime specification, which does not meet today's flight standards, rather than wiring used in modern aircraft. This is vital to our mission of preserving the record copies of these aircraft for future generations to come.
(10) Where have the parts for the restoration come from?Parts not already available are being donated and purchased. In addition, our restoration staff has fabricated parts during some of the restoration.
(11) Can you estimate what percentage of the completed "Memphis Belle"® were original to the aircraft or vintage World War II parts?Approximately 95 percent of the completed restoration will be vintage parts from the World War II era.
(12) Who is doing the restoration?Both professional museum restoration staff and technically qualified volunteers are working on the Memphis Belle's restoration.
(13) What will happen to the B-17 that is currently on display in the World War II Gallery?The B-17G Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby that is currently on display in the museum's World War II Gallery will be transferred to the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum.
(14) Where can I find more information and/or photos of the "Memphis Belle"®?The museum has a fact sheet with a number of photos and videos available on the museum's website.
(15) Is the museum planning to hold a special event when the "Memphis Belle"® is placed on display? The museum recognizes the roll-out of the Memphis Belle will be a significant event and one of great interest to the public. While it is premature to speculate on the scope of the event, it will be considered a major part of the museum's 2018 programs.