The B-17F Memphis Belle is a national aviation treasure and widely recognized symbol of American bravery and heroism during WWII. After returning to the United States in June 1943, its crew flew the aircraft across the country on a three-month war bond and morale boosting tour. After storage and restoration it has now at it’s permanent home at the United States Air Force Museum, Dayton, Ohio.
In January of 2020, the National Warplane Museums board of trustees reluctantly decided to terminate the lease of one of its best-known aircraft, the Memphis Belle. “It was solely due to the cost to operate the plane,” commented museum spokesperson Bob Dauer. “It’s been increasing year by year dramatically.”
The Memphis Belle was the second heavy bomber to fly 25 combat missions over Europe without the loss of any crew members. The first was the “Hot Stuff” but due to the untimely demise of its little-known crew, it slipped into obscurity.
The museum faced a 100 percent increase in insurance premiums, the rising cost of spare parts, labour. Not to mention the constant $1,000 spending on fuel that the Belle guzzled every hour it was in the air. Craig Wadsworth, the museum’s director of aircraft maintenance and restoration, speculated that the staggering increase in the museum’s insurance premiums.
This was partly due to the crash of a different B-17 in Connecticut where seven people lost their lives. It was only a guess as the insurance company did not declare its reasoning. The Belle has since been kept stored at the museum’s summer base of operations at the Kissimmee Gateway Airport in Florida.
The Museum had taken possession of the Memphis Belle B-17 back in 2016, from the family of one David Tallichet. Though not the actual Memphis Belle, it was still one of the only 35 B-17s that are still in existence. Mr Tallichet had passed away, and his family was dealing with his extensive collection of vintage aircraft that were stored in California. When the Museum took possession of the plane, Wadsworth was delighted as it had been the culmination of a life-long dream.
He recalled watching old black and white films such as “Wing and a Prayer,” and “Twelve O’clock High” during his youth in the 1960s. He was thrilled that the Museum had been finally able to acquire such a rare gem as an asset.
The trustees were grateful to the Tallichet family for allowing the Museum to take care of the B-17 for the past years. While they can no longer continue paying for the plane’s upkeep, they were delighted that the Tallichet family had stated their commitment to ensuring that this flying piece of history would be kept operational.
There was also hope that it would return to the Museum for special future occasions. The trustees were investigating whether the Belle could reside at the NWM during the summer months in some form or limited manner.
The discussions are around placing the plane on the tarmac and allowing tours with a few demonstration flights. These discussions are in the early stages, and they are not close to a final agreement at this time. Dauer admitted that the Belle was a massive crowd attracter for the Museum, but he does not believe that attendance numbers would substantially drop after the loss of the plane.