|"The Swoose" in bare metal finish, 1944|
|Type||Boeing B-17D-BO Flying Fortress|
|Manufacturer||Boeing Airplane Company|
|Owners and operators||USAF|
|In service||25 April 1941 to February 1944|
|Preserved at||Preserved and under restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force|
The Swoose is a B-17D-BO Flying Fortress, USAAF Ser. No. 40-3097, that saw extensive use in the Southwest Pacific theatre of World War II and survived to become the oldest B-17 still intact. It is the only early "shark fin" B-17 known to exist, and the only surviving B-17 to have seen action in the 1941-42 Philippines Campaign, the first day of the United States entry into the war.
The 38th of 42 B-17Ds built by Boeing, 40-3097 was accepted by the Army Air Corps on 25 April 1941 in Seattle, Washington. It was ferried to Hickam Field, Hawaii, 13–14 May 1941, by the 19th Bomb Group as part of a group of 21 B-17C and Ds slated to equip the 11th Bomb Group. In response to the perceived hostile activities of the Japanese military, in September 1941, the War Department sent nine B-17s based in Hawaii to Clark Field, the Philippines, assigned to the 14th Bomb Squadron, 11th Bomb Group aircraft number 21, arriving at Nichols Field; the only field besides Clark that could handle the Fortresses, on 12 September.
The Japanese surprise attacks of 8 December 1941 on military installations on Nichols Field (an auxiliary airfield just north of Clark Field) and the Philippine Islands, eight hours after the Pearl Harbor raid, caught much of the United States military on the ground and only 17 of the 35 Flying Fortresses escaped destruction. One of the survivors, 40-3097, named Ole Betsy, was pressed into bombing duty for the next two months until newer B-17Es began to reach the Pacific in January 1942. Spare parts were scarce and ground crews patched up battle damage with parts salvaged from other destroyed aircraft. The last combat mission flown by 40-3097 was a raid on the east coast of Borneo on 11 January 1942, piloted by the commander of the 19th Bomb Group, Major Cecil Combs.
Half swan, half goose
In late January 1942, 40-3097 was flown to a Royal Australian Air Force Base at Laverton, near Melbourne, Australia, where it underwent depot repairs. At this time, the tail of 40-3091 was grafted onto 40-3097, leading 19th Bomb Group pilot Captain Weldon Smith to dub the aircraft "The Swoose" after the popular song Alexander the Swoose from a ditty written by Franklin Furlett and performed by bandleader Kay Kyser about a bird that was "half swan, half goose: Alexander is a swoose". A depiction of the chimerical bird was soon painted on the starboard fuselage just aft of the main entrance door with the hopeful statement "It Flys" (sic). The aircraft never returned to first-line duty, apparently flying navigation escort missions for fighters and anti-submarine patrols, but was withdrawn from duty in March 1942 as it was in very poor condition by this time.
While parked at Laverton, it was still deemed the best thing available at the airfield, and was selected by Captain Frank Kurtz to serve as the personal transport for General George Brett, then the Deputy Commander of Allied Forces in Australia, and ranking American commander. It carried various military brass for the next four months, including future president Lyndon B. Johnson, then a congressman and active-duty US Navy lieutenant commander. On a flight from Darwin on June 11, 1942, the crew had navigation problems and Kurtz had to make a forced landing at Carisbrooke Station near Winton, Queensland. When General Brett was reassigned to the Caribbean Defense Command following friction between him and General Douglas MacArthur, The Swoose ferried him to Washington, D.C., in August 1942, setting a number of speed records in the process. Used for a war bond tour, 40-3097 continued to serve as General Brett's personal transport through 1944.
In 1943, Harcourt Brace published the book Queens Die Proudly, by W.L. White, a follow-up to White's earlier wartime best-seller, They Were Expendable. Queens Die Proudly is a journalistic account of the air war in the Philippines, the Netherlands East Indies, and Australia, from December 1941 through the spring of 1942; Frank Kurtz and The Swoose are prominently featured.
A routine inspection in February 1944 at Albrook Field in the Panama Canal Zone uncovered cracked wing spars and other corrosion. While this would normally result in scrapping, Brett's pilot at the time, Captain Jack Crane, located a pair of B-17B wing panels in the local depot and the aircraft was rebuilt with much of the equipment brought up to B-17E standard, but with none of the -E model's gun turret emplacements. The aircraft was redesignated an RB-17D in late 1944 (obsolete) but continued to be assigned to General Brett until December 1945, when the general himself flew the last operational flight from Los Angeles to Kirtland Field, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for disposal.
Despite its distinguished combat record, the Swoose was caught in the rush to disarm and ended up at the extensive War Assets Administration facility at Kingman, Arizona, slated to be smelted down for its aluminium. At this point, Colonel Frank Kurtz persuaded the City of Los Angeles to retrieve the bomber for use as a war memorial in March 1946, with the bomber arriving at Los Angeles Municipal Airport on 6 April 1946. However, three years later, the city still had not found an appropriate place to display the historic airframe and in January 1949 it was donated by the city fathers to the National Air Museum in Washington, D.C. Refurbished at March Air Force Base, Riverside, California, for its delivery flight, it was flown by Kurtz with National Air Museum curator Paul Garber aboard to a storage facility at Park Ridge, Illinois, on 26 March 1949. In January 1950 it was flown to Pyote, Texas, for additional storage, and then in December 1953 it was airborne one last time to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, arriving there on 5 December on three engines. It is unlikely that an air delivery of such an artifact would be attempted now.
The Swoose was stored outside at Andrews until April 1961, during which time it suffered at the hands of both the weather and vandals, who picked the airframe clean of souvenirs. It was finally dismantled and moved several miles overland to the National Air and Space Museum's Paul Garber Restoration Facility in Suitland, MD, where it suffered additional weather damage while stored outside. Amidst mounting criticism about the treatment of historic artifacts like the Swoose and the B-29 "Enola Gay," the Smithsonian finally moved 40-3097 indoors in a dismantled state in the mid-1970s.
Move to Dayton
The Washington Post reported on 3 November 2007 that the Air and Space Museum's collections committee, an advisory group on the acquisition and transfer of aircraft, had voted 5–4 on 28 September 2007 for deaccessioning The Swoose, and transfer it to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The panel forwarded its decision to Gen. John R. "Jack" Dailey, the museum director, and Donald S. Lopez Sr., the deputy director, who subsequently decided to stand by the committee's recommendation. "There were good arguments on both sides," said Dailey, who had requested a collections review to alleviate a storage crunch at the aforementioned Paul Garber Restoration Facility, where The Swoose has been stored since 1961. The Swoose has never been in a plan to be displayed, Dailey said. A recommended condition of this transfer was that the National Museum of the United States Air Force transfer ownership of a restored B-17 to the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar V. Hazy site for display, as that museum lacks a B-17. The matter was discussed by the governing board of the Dayton museum, and with the recent arrival of the B-17F Memphis Belle it was decided that continued display of the Museum's B-17G Shoo Shoo Baby would be unnecessary. Upon completion of the restoration and display of the Swoose, Shoo Shoo Baby will be transferred to the Washington D.C. museum for display (Memphis Belle is not expected to be completed until 2015). This decision raised some concerns among the staff and patrons of the Dayton museum, as "Shoo Shoo Baby" is one of the world's finest restored examples of a B-17G, and has been a popular exhibit at the museum for many years. It was eventually pointed out that with the display of the Swoose and eventual display of the Memphis Belle the National Museum of the United States Air Force will possess the world's two most historically significant B-17s, and another B-17G model can easily be obtained when funds and space become available.
On 15 July 2008 the Swoose was permanently transferred to the National Museum of the United States Air Force for restoration and display. It was placed in the Museum's restoration facility alongside the Memphis Belle.
"We are pleased that The Swoose is coming to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force," said senior curator Terry Aitken. "The transfer between the two federal institutions is a demonstration of good stewardship of our national historic collection. Our museum's restoration staff will use their experience and expertise being gained from the restoration of the famous Memphis Belle to accurately restore The Swoose, which is so important to our history."
As of fall 2008, the NMUSAF has begun restoration of the Swoose. The Swoose has undergone a limited inspection and a more extensive and detailed technical inspection is planned. Based on the findings, the museum will determine how to best restore and display the historic aircraft. The extensive restoration is expected to take a number of years. The Swoose is being restored at the same time as Memphis Belle, though it is expected the Swoose restoration will be completed many years before Memphis Belle.
The 2010 Annual Report, the USAF museum reported: "Work progressed on tail cone components, keel beam, main landing gear, forward fuselage, and lower belly machine gun. ..."
As of August 2012, the National Museum of the US Air Force website reported: "All items are in the process of being evaluated for restoration. The interior has been removed from the aircraft and the fuselage is being treated for corrosion control. Repair and fabrication of the nose compartment ring frames is nearing completion and skin is being done now. The aft tail cone is being treated for corrosion control by hand, and the radio room, waist gun position and tail cone are now being stripped. The cabin door has undergone sheet metal fabrication and repair. The corroded right longeron has been completed and the left one is being restored. The lower flexible machine gun emplacement has been fabricated and fitted to the aircraft by a contractor. Other parts are being machine fabricated by the volunteer machinists as needed. Miscellaneous parts are being inventoried and catalogued. Volunteers have restored the rudder and fabric covering has been completed." https://web.archive.org/web/20140223031027/http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/exhibits/restoration/index.asp
It has been reported that the restoration of The Swoose/Ole Betsy has been suspended due to a fierce fight within the Museum and the Warbird community. The NMUSAF wants to restore her to the standard B-17D bomber configuration as Ole Betsy. The Warbird community wants her restored to her configuration as General Brett's personal aircraft, The Swoose, as it was in that configuration that she became legendary. Neither side is willing to compromise.
Literature and arts
- In the W. E. B. Griffin The Corps series of novels, one of the main characters reports having flown aboard The Swoose.
- Reference is made to The Swoose in the Battle of Guadalcanal section of Leon Uris' 1953 novel Battle Cry. Several of his characters are given a tour of the airplane at Henderson Field.
- Actress Swoosie Kurtz (Colonel Kurtz's daughter) was named after The Swoose.
- The "Swoose", rootsweb, 17 December 2003, retrieved 24 January 2010
- "Boy's Own adventures nearly killed Lyndon Johnson" by Cameron Stewart, The Australian (November 12, 2011)
- The Swoose comes home to roost at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
- Friends Bulletin, published by the Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc., Vol 31, No 3, Fall 2008, pp. 15–16
- Brownstein, Herbert S. The Swoose: Odyssey of a B-17. Washington: Smithsonian, 1993. ISBN 978-1560981961
- Thompson, Scott A. Final Cut – The Post-War B-17 Flying Fortress: The Survivors (Revised edition). Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 2000. ISBN 1-57510-077-0.
- White, W.L. Queens Die Proudly. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1943.