Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress restoration completed

Saturday 9th July 2011 at 05:52

Boeing B17F Flying Fortress N17W
Cockpit view of Boeing B17F Flying Fortress N17W

The Museum of Flight's  Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress N17W has undergone 21 years of restoration and has been authentically restored down to the tiniest of details.

Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress N17W

Built in 1943 and accepted into the Army Air Force as 42-29782 the aircraft was modified in Wyoming and then assigned training units at Blythe Field and then McClellan Field in California. A month later, 42-29782 worked its way back to Washington flying training flights at Moses Lake. During one such flight the right main wheel came off and the B-17 spent some time in the shop with damage to the right wing and engines #3 and #4.

In January 1944, 42-29782 left for the European Theater.  Whilst it did not see combat, it stayed in Britain for three months.  Iin March 1944, 42-29782 returned to the States. It would visit overseas again but not in a military capacity. The B-17 remained with the Army Air Force at Drew Field in Florida throughout the war. On November 5,1945 it was withdrawn from service and shipped to Altus, Oklahoma for disposal.

There 42-29782 sat until 1946 when the War Assets Administration transferred the airplane to Stuttgart, Arkansas for display as a War Memorial. Stripped of its turrets, guns and other war-making items it nested in a small park for the next five years. With only "Great White Bird" painted on the nose, the plane sat derelict until 1953 when the U.S. Government turned over title to a pair of brothers for $20,000. Now a civil aircraft the Biegert brothers received the new serial number N17W. The plane was completely overhauled into flying condition and converted to an aerial sprayer. Among other things, the ex-bomber was used for spraying DDT.

Boeing B17F Flying Fortress N17W
The bomb-bay in the midsection of the aircraft

It remained in the spraying capacity until 1960 when it was leased for fighting forest fires. Soon after the plane was sold to an air tanker unit which used N17W as a tanker through 1968. That was when it started it illustrious movie career...

B-17F N17W famous in the movies

Appearing in the movie 1,000 Plane Raid in 1968, N17W saw its first action in what would be three Hollywood features. The film Tora Tora Tora in 1969 came next and N17W’s acting career ended in 1989 with the movie Memphis Belle which starred Matthew Modine and Harry Connick Jr. This final movie, shot on location in England, required more than 50 hours of flying time. In order for the director to give the illusion of many B-17s in the scenes (long before computer generated graphics) the aircraft was painted with one scheme on the left side and a different scheme on the right.

Meanwhile, from 1968 to 1985 Don Clark became the pilot of the aircraft. It continued to do various spraying, fire fighting and tanker jobs but its missions also included flights to Hawaii, Alaska and England. In 1988, with a new owner named Robert Richardson, top and bottom turrets were installed and the plane became based at the Museum of Flight for the first time. After its quick spell with the Memphis Belle film shoot in England the B-17 returned to the Museum and its restoration began in 1991.

Selection of Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress N17W images

Selection of Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress images

Museum of Flight

The Museum of Flight is one of the largest air and space museums in the world attracting more than 400,000 visitors annually.  It is located South of downtown Seattle at the south end of Boeing Field / King County Airport; Exit 158 off Interstate 5

Photography by  JPC van Heijst

Report by Derek Pedley

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