Memphis Belle (aircraft)

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Memphis Belle
Memphis Belle.jpg
Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress, AAF Ser. No. 41-24485, Memphis Belle, 324th Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, 9 June 1943
Type Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress
Manufacturer Boeing Aircraft Company
Construction number 3470[1]
Serial 41-24485
Radio code DF-A
Owners and operators United States Army Air Forces
Status On display
Preserved at National Museum of the United States Air Force

Memphis Belle is a Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress used during the Second World War that inspired the making of two motion pictures: a 1944 documentary film, Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, and a 1990 Hollywood feature film, Memphis Belle. The aircraft was one of the first United States Army Air Forces B-17 heavy bombers to complete 25 combat missions. The aircraft and crew then returned to the United States to sell war bonds.[2] In 2005, restoration began on the aircraft at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio where, from May 2018, it is on display.[3][4]


Crew of the Memphis Belle.They are, left to right: Tech. Sgt. Harold P. Loch of Green Bay, Wis., top turret gunner; Staff Sgt. Cecil H. Scott of Altoona, Penn., ball turret gunner; Tech. Sgt. Robert J, Hanson of Walla Walla, Wash., radio operator; Capt. James A. Verinis, New Haven, Conn., co-pilot; Capt. Robert K. Morgan of Ashville, N. C., pilot; Capt. Charles B. Leighton of Lansing, Mich., navigator; Staff Sgt. John P. Quinlan of Yonkers, N. Y., tail gunner; Staff Sgt. Casimer A. Nastal of Detroit, Mich., waist gunner; Capt. Vincent B. Evans of Henderson, Texas, bombardier and Staff Sgt. Clarence E. Winchell of Oak Park, Ill., waist gunner.

The crew for the Memphis Belle was as follows:[5]

  • Pilot: Captain Robert K. Morgan
  • Co-pilot: Captain James A. Verinis
  • Navigator: Captain Charles B. Leighton
  • Bombardier: Captain Vincent B. Evans
  • The First Engineer/Top Turret Gunner: Leviticus "Levy" Dillon
  • The Second Engineer/Top Turret Gunner: Eugene Adkins
  • The Third Engineer/Top Turret Gunner: Harold P. Loch
  • Radio Operator: Robert Hanson
  • Ball Turret Gunner: Cecil Scott
  • Right Waist Gunner: E. Scott Miller
  • Right Waist Gunner: Casmer A "Tony" Nastal
  • Left Waist Gunner: Clarence E. "Bill" Winchell
  • Tail Gunner: John P. Quinlan
  • Crew Chief: Joe Giambrone

Combat history[edit]

The crew back from their 25th operational mission. All were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.

The Memphis Belle, a Boeing-built B-17F-10-BO, manufacturer's serial number 3470, USAAC Serial No. 41-24485, was added to the USAAF inventory on 15 July 1942,[6] and delivered in September 1942 to the 91st Bombardment Group at Dow Field, Bangor, Maine.[7] It deployed to Prestwick, Scotland, on 30 September 1942, moving to a temporary base at RAF Kimbolton on 1 October, and then finally to its permanent base at RAF Bassingbourn, England, on 14 October.[7] Each side of the fuselage bore the unit and aircraft identification markings of a B-17 of the 324th Bomb Squadron (Heavy); the squadron code "DF" and individual aircraft letter "A."[6][8]

Captain Robert K. Morgan's crew flew 29 combat missions with the 324th Bomb Squadron, all but four in the Memphis Belle. The aircraft's 25 combat missions, which included eight German aircraft shot down by its crew, were:

* Sources disagree on which two of these three missions the Memphis Belle received mission credits for.

Morgan's crew completed the following missions in B-17s other than the Memphis Belle:

  • 4 February 1943 – Emden, Germany (in B-17 DF-H 41-24515 Jersey Bounce)[16]
  • 26 February 1943 – Wilhelmshaven, Germany (in B-17 41-24515)[17]
  • 5 April 1943 – Antwerp, Belgium (in B-17 41-24480 Bad Penny)[17]
  • 4 May 1943 – Antwerp, Belgium (in B-17 41-24527, The Great Speckled Bird)[18]

The aircraft was then flown back to the United States on 8 June 1943, by a composite crew chosen by the Eighth Air Force from those who had flown combat aboard, led by Capt. Morgan, for a 31-city war bond tour. Morgan's original co-pilot was Capt. James A. Verinis, who himself piloted the Memphis Belle for one mission. Verinis was promoted to aircraft commander of another B-17 for his final 16 missions and finished his tour on 13 May. He rejoined Morgan's crew as co-pilot for the flight back to the United States.

The B-17 Hell's Angels (41-24577) of the 303rd Bomb Group completed 25 combat missions on 13 May 1943, becoming the first B-17 to complete the feat, one week before the Memphis Belle.[19][20]

Source of the name[edit]

The aircraft was named after pilot Robert K Morgan's sweetheart, Margaret Polk, a resident of Memphis, Tennessee. Morgan originally intended to call the aircraft Little One, which was his pet name for Polk, but after Morgan and copilot Jim Verinis saw the movie Lady for a Night, in which the leading character owns a riverboat named the Memphis Belle, he proposed that name to his crew.[N 4] Morgan then contacted George Petty at the offices of Esquire magazine and asked him for a pinup drawing to go with the name, which Petty supplied from the magazine's April 1941 issue.[22]

The 91st's group artist, Corporal Tony Starcer, copied the Petty girl as art on both sides of the forward fuselage, depicting her suit in blue on the aircraft's port side and in red on the starboard. The nose art later included 25 bomb shapes, one for each mission credit, and eight swastika designs, one for each German aircraft claimed shot down by the crew. Station and crew names were stenciled below station windows on the aircraft after its tour of duty was completed.

Postwar history[edit]

In his memoirs, Morgan claimed that during his publicity tour he flew the B-17 between the Buncombe County Courthouse and the City Hall of Asheville, North Carolina, his home town. Morgan wrote that after leaving a local airport he decided to buzz the town, telling his copilot, Captain Verinis, "I think we'll just drive up over the city and give them a little goodbye salute." Morgan turned the bomber down Patton Avenue, a main thoroughfare, toward downtown Asheville. When he observed the courthouse and the city hall (two tall buildings that are only about 50 ft (20 m) apart) dead ahead, he lowered his left wing in a 60 degree bank and flew between the structures. He wrote that the city hall housed an AAF weather detachment whose commanding officer allegedly complained immediately to the Pentagon, but was advised by a duty officer that "Major Morgan...has been given permission to buzz by General Henry "Hap" Arnold."[23]

Display in Memphis[edit]

After the war, the Memphis Belle was saved from reclamation at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma where it had been consigned since 1 August 1945, by the efforts of the mayor of Memphis, Walter Chandler. The city of Memphis bought the B-17 for US$350 (equivalent to $4,971 in 2019).[24][25] It was flown to Memphis in July 1946 and stored until mid-1949 when it was placed on display at the National Guard armory near the city's fairgrounds. It sat out-of-doors into the 1980s, slowly deteriorating from weather and vandalism. Souvenir hunters removed almost all of the interior components. Eventually no instruments were left in the cockpit, and virtually every removable piece of the aircraft's interior had been scavenged, often severing the aircraft's wiring and control cables in the process.

The Memphis Belle on a War Bond campaign at Patterson Field during World War II.

In the early 1970s, another mayor had donated the historic aircraft back to the Air Force, but they allowed it to remain in Memphis contingent on it being maintained. Efforts by the locally organized Memphis Belle Memorial Association, Inc. (MBMA) saw the aircraft moved to Mud Island in the Mississippi River in 1987 for display in a new pavilion with large tarp cover.[25] It was still open to the elements, however, and prone to weathering. Pigeons would also nest inside the tarp and droppings were constantly needing removal from the B-17. Dissatisfaction with the site led to efforts to create a new museum facility in Shelby County. In the summer of 2003 the Belle was disassembled and moved to a restoration facility at the former Naval Air Station Memphis in Millington, Tennessee for work. In September 2004, however, the National Museum of the United States Air Force, apparently tiring of the ups and downs of the city's attempts to preserve the aircraft, indicated that they wanted it back for restoration and eventual display at the museum at Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio. The Memphis Belle- The Final Chapter in Memphis, a documentary film by Ken Axmaker, Jr., focuses on the history of the Belle in Memphis and emphasizes the final days and the volunteers who tried to keep one of the most famous aircraft in the world and another Memphis icon from disappearing.

Move to Dayton[edit]

Memphis Belle during refurbishment in 2011.
Memphis Belle after refurbishment was completed in 2018.

On 30 August 2005, the MBMA announced that a consultant that they hired determined that the MBMA would not be able to raise enough money to restore the Belle and otherwise fulfill the Air Force's requirements to keep possession of the aircraft. They announced plans to return the aircraft to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio, after a final exhibition at an airshow in Millington, Tennessee from 30 September–2 October 2005. The Belle arrived safely at the museum in mid-October 2005 and was placed in one of the Museum's restoration hangars.

The Museum placed restoration of Memphis Belle near the top of its priorities. In the magazine Friends Journal of the museum's foundation, Major General Charles D. Metcalf, USAF (Ret), then the director of the museum, stated that it might take eight to 10 years to fully restore the aircraft.

By the spring of 2009, considerable preparatory work had been accomplished, but the fuselage and wings were still disassembled.[26]

After stripping the paint from the aft fuselage of the aircraft, hundreds of names and personal messages were found scratched in the aluminum skin. It turned out that, during the aircraft's war bond tour, people were allowed to leave their mark there.

In May 2017 the museum announced the goal of completing the restoration and putting the Memphis Belle on display by May 17, 2018, the 75th anniversary of the plane's 25th mission.[27] On March 19, 2018 the Memphis Belle was moved into the WWII Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, and was officially unveiled May 17, 2018.[4]

Memphis Belle film (1990)[edit]

The B-17 that portrayed Memphis Belle in the 1990 film at the Joint Service Open House at Andrews Air Force Base in 2008.

Five airworthy B-17s were used in the filming of the 1990 British-American war drama film Memphis Belle, two from the US (N-17W – now on display in Seattle and Movie Memphis Belle 44-83546), B-17G Sally B from the UK and two French geographic survey B-17Gs, one of which crashed on take-off near the end of filming.

The B-17Gs had some sections converted into a B-17F configuration for the film. A former bomber, B-17G-85-DL, AAC Serial No. 44-83546, FAA registered N3703G, was converted by installing a Sperry top turret, early-style tail gunner's compartment and waist gunner's positions, and omitting the chin turret. After appearing in the film, this plane continues to make air show appearances as Movie Memphis Belle in that configuration. Originally painted with the Warner Brothers movie version of the nose art and markings, the B-17 (owned by restaurateur David Tallichet until his death in 2007) now carries the historic markings found on the actual Memphis Belle. That aircraft is currently leased by the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, New York and provides historical flight experiences to the public.[28]

The Sally B, used in film, is the last airworthy B-17 in the United Kingdom and is based at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. It is part of the USAAC World War II Memorial Flight and makes dozens of appearances across the United Kingdom and Northern Europe. It is maintained and run by volunteers, relying solely upon donations.

In addition to the airworthy B-17s, others were used as planes visible at the airbase in the film, but not as the Memphis Belle. One example, B-17F-70-BO, Serial number 42-29782, is located at the Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA. Boeing Bee has been completely restored and is potentially airworthy once again.

Other aircraft named Memphis Belle[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ AAC training aids publication (July 1943) listed "the ship's" 25 missions. The mission list is crew's, however, not the aircraft's, as it lists missions of 4 February, 26 February, 5 April, and 4 May which crew flew in other aircraft, and omits missions when others flew the Memphis Belle.
  2. ^ Only Morgan's account supports that he flew the Memphis Belle on this mission. 303rd BG site states he flew 515 this date, and 324th dailies do not show him on mission at all.[12]
  3. ^ All references except Morgan show this as the 25th mission of the Memphis Belle. Morgan states that all flights of the Memphis Belle after 15 May were local only, for the purpose of "touchup shots" to complete editing of the movie.[15]
  4. ^ Morgan states the crew agreed to the name by vote.[21]


  1. ^ Joseph F. Baugher's U.S. military aircraft serials and construction numbers;
  2. ^ "B-17 Flying Fortress." United States Air Force. Retrieved: 30 July 2011.
  3. ^ Barber, Barry. "Memphis Belle to go on display at Air Force Museum in 2018" National Museum of the United States Air Force, 18 January 2017. Retrieved: 18 January 2017.
  4. ^ a b Preuss, Andreas (2018-05-17). "Memphis Belle bomber newly restored and unveiled at US Air Force museum". CNN. Retrieved 2018-05-17.
  5. ^ Zhou, Jing. "Memphis Belle – Crew". Retrieved 2016-05-27.
  6. ^ a b Havelaar 1995, p. 211.
  7. ^ a b Bishop 1986, p. 133.
  8. ^ Bishop 1986, p. 233.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u "25 Missions: The Story of the Memphis Belle." Air Fronts. Retrieved: 12 August 2008
  10. ^ Morgan and Powers 2001, pp.127, 384 (Mission list).
  11. ^ a b "Hells Angels vs. Memphis Belle, Historical Information." 303rd Bomb Group Association. Retrieved: 11 August 2008.
  12. ^ Morgan and Powers 2001, pp. 178, 384.
  13. ^ Morgan and Powers 2001, p. 187.
  14. ^ "1943 dailies of 324th Bomb squadron." 91st Bomb group Association. Retrieved: 11 August 2008.
  15. ^ Morgan and Powers 2001, p. 215.
  16. ^ Morgan and Powers, pp. 167, 384.
  17. ^ a b Morgan, pp. 177 and 384.
  18. ^ Morgan and Powers, pp. 196, 385.
  19. ^ "Hell's Angels vs Memphis Belle." Retrieved: 21 September 2011.
  20. ^ "Boeing B-17F-25-BO Hell’s Angels. National Museum of the United States Air Force, 25 June 2009. Retrieved: 16 July 2017.
  21. ^ Morgan and Powers 2001, p. 98.
  22. ^ Morgan and Powers 2001, p. 99.
  23. ^ Morgan and Powers 2001, pp. 241–242.
  24. ^ Bernstein, Mark (November 2008). "Restoration: The Memphis Belle For this famous B-17, surviving 25 missions in World War II was the easy part". Air and Space Magazine. Retrieved 2018-06-05.
  25. ^ a b Finger, Michael (3 December 2013). "The Past, Present, and Future of the Memphis Belle". Memphis Magazine. Retrieved 2018-06-05.
  26. ^ Kern, Chris. "Restoring an Icon: The 'Memphis Belle'."ChrisKern.Net. Retrieved: 12 June 2009.
  27. ^ Stacy, Mitch (May 28, 2017). "Long-Awaited Display of Restored Memphis Belle Set for 2018". Savannah Morning News. Associated Press. Retrieved May 28, 2017.
  28. ^ National Warplane Museum, Retrieved Jul. 18, 2018.
  29. ^ "Picture of 'Memphis Belle II'." Retrieved: 1 December 2012.
  30. ^ Nelowkin, Wolodymir. "Rockwell B-1B Lancer 86-0133.", 3 February 2003. Retrieved: 1 December 2012.
  31. ^ "Picture of 'Memphis Belle II'." Retrieved: 1 December 2012.
  32. ^ Picture of 'Memphis Belle IV'." militaryaircraft. Retrieved: 1 December 2012.
  33. ^ Halford, David. "Picture of 'Memphis Belle V'." Retrieved: 1 December 2012.
  34. ^ Scanlon, M.J. "Picture of the 'Memphis Belle X'.", 2006. Retrieved: 1 December 2012.
  35. ^ Derden, Jonathan, "Picture of 'Spirit of Memphis Belle'.", 6 November 2003. Retrieved: 1 December 2012.


  • Bishop, Cliff T. Fortresses of the Big Triangle First. Bishops Stortford, UK: East Anglia Books, 1986, pp. 133, 135, and 233. ISBN 1-869987-00-4.
  • Freeman, Roger A., The Mighty Eighth War Diary. London: Jane's, 1990, pp. 36, 59. ISBN 0-87938-495-6.
  • Havelaar, Marion H., and Hess, William N. The Ragged Irregulars of Bassingbourn: The 91st Bombardment Group in World War II. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer, 1995, pp. 38–40, 211, 212. ISBN 0-88740-810-9.
  • Morgan, Col. Robert K., Ret., with Ron Powers. The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle. New York: Dutton, 2001. ISBN 0-525-94610-1.
  • Thompson, Scott A. Final Cut – The Post-War B-17 Flying Fortress: The Survivors, Second edition. Missoula, Missouri: Pictorial Histories Pub. Co., 2000. ISBN 1-57510-077-0.

External links[edit]