Image of the Air Force wings with the museum name underneath

Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
FREE Admission & Parking

Boeing B-17D "The Swoose"

The Boeing B-17D "The Swoose" is currently undergoing restoration. (April 2023)

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. 

The NMUSAF is beginning the restoration/conservation of the B-17D known as The Swoose. The aircraft is the only early "shark fin" B-17 known to exist and is the only surviving B-17 to have seen action in the Philippines in the opening days of World War II in the Pacific. 

During its service life in combat, it was known as Ole Betsy.  After seeing initial combat in the Philippines, it was evacuated to Australia in 1942. While undergoing depot repairs, the tail of another B-17D was attached to the original aircraft, and the aircraft was renamed The Swoose - a combination of a swan and a goose.  At that time, new art was added to the right side of the aircraft.  The aircraft never returned to combat, and ultimately became a transport aircraft for General George Brett, serving in that capacity until its retirement in December 1945.  During its later service life, additional modifications were done to the aircraft wings and other structures.

In considering how best to preserve the aircraft, the NMUSAF is opting to take a combined restoration/conservation approach to bring the aircraft back to life in its transport configuration. The numerous modifications done over the years; the existence of original art and markings; and the components the NMUSAF possesses all point to this configuration being the best choice. By combining both restoration and conservation, the NMUSAF intends to preserve as much of the original markings as possible. 

NMUSAF estimates the work will take at least 7 years. 

Project Description/scope:  This is both a restoration and conservation project. Some airframe areas need repair and restoration for structural integrity and exhibit-worthiness, while others will be conserved as-is to maintain originality. The overall aim is to present the artifact in the context in which it was received, i.e., to preserve it in the configuration of its final mission. A combination of restoration and preservation will ensure its longevity, structural and historical integrity, and safe public display in a controlled environment. This means that the aircraft's identity as The Swoose will be maintained with as much original fabric in situ as possible. The minimally invasive preservation approach is one option in the spectrum of possible restoration/preservation/conservation practice, and as in all NMUSAF restoration work assures the artifact's ethical treatment as a museum object.

Project Justification:  This project strengthens the NMUSAF's identity as the premier collection of American combat aircraft and promises to increase visitorship by being the only "straight tail" B-17 on exhibit in the world. The Swoose's distinctive shape and its fascinating record of combat, reconfiguration, and transport service rounds out the Pacific Theater WWII air power story and improves the Museum's Global Reach interpretation. Preserving the plane as it was received, i.e., as a transport, respects its
integrity as an artifact, eliminates very difficult or impossible physical restoration and equipment issues, and helps tell Airmen's stories with authenticity. Airpower enthusiasts eagerly await its completion, and casual visitors will appreciate its unique story and appearance.

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

Click here to return to the Featured Accessions index.