MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
The flight line at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, was much different than what it was during World War II, when aircraft flew constantly overseas to contest Nazi Germany. Some of those planes never returned to the U.S., but at approximately 10:30 a.m. March 13, 2018, MacDill welcomed back home, the famous Memphis Belle B-17.
As of 2017, the original Memphis Belle aircraft began the restoration process at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. What returned to MacDill AFB on March 13 was an authentic B-17 painted to match the appearance of the Memphis Belle.
This same aircraft appeared in the 1990 movie, “Memphis Belle.”
“What people might not know is that MacDill Air Force Base was ground zero for training B-17 bombers as of 1942,” said Mr. Stephen Ove, the base historian assigned to the 6th Air Mobility Wing. “Most of the B-17 aircrew members that flew in World War II were trained at MacDill.”
One of the aircrew members, Memphis Belle pilot Captain Robert K. Morgan, trained at MacDill. He named the aircraft after his girlfriend, Margaret Polk, a southern belle from Memphis, Tennessee.
“Although the original aircraft was built in the summer of 1942 by Boeing in Seattle,” said Ove. “The 91st BG was relocated to MacDill as of May 13, 1942, which is the group that the Memphis Belle belonged to.”
Ove added that the MacDill aircrew met the Memphis Belle en route to Europe in the fall of 1942.
The Memphis Belle became only the second U.S. Army Air Forces B-17 heavy bomber to complete 25 combat missions with its crew and aircraft intact, but the first to return to the U.S.
“It was rare for an aircraft to fly 25 missions without any of the aircrew being seriously injured or killed in action and the Memphis Belle accomplished that,” said Ove. “The Memphis Belle is a national treasure because it gave people hope during a brutal war.”
Additionally, the Memphis Belle is a reminder that good things can come out of facing great adversity, and Airmen belong to a tradition of honor and a legacy of valor.
"It's our heritage,” said Tech. Sgt. Eric Gries, an aircraft metals technology shift lead assigned to the 6th Maintenance Squadron. “That's where we came from and it motivates us to see it still flying, and to know the stuff we work on today is going to become a historical asset one day."
The Memphis Belle replica, much like the original did after World War II, flies around the country inspiring Americans with its historical significance.
Once fully restored, the original Memphis Belle is scheduled to go on display on May 17, 2018 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.