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Then and Now, the B-17G “City of Savannah”

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Pooler – About a month ago, I was asked for some photos I took of the National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force‘s B-17 arrival for use in a book being published about the aircraft and its restoration. After finding the digital originals and dropping them off at the museum, I started thinking about how much of a change the aircraft has undergone since its arrival at the museum in 2009 and that in turn led to this blog post.

The National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force’s B-17 is a B-17G, serial 44-83814. By the time 44-83814 was delivered, World War II was in its closing stages so it never saw combat. After the war ended, it saw civilian service in both the United States and Canada. Picking up a US civil aviation registration of N66571, it flew with California Atlantic Airways from 1951-1953.  From 1953-1971 it flew with a Canadian registration of CF-HBP and was owned by Kenting Aviation Ltd. out of Toronto, Ontario. Kenting Aviation used retired World War II aircraft for mapping and surveying duties; as CF-HBP, 44-83814 was one of those aircraft. From 1971 to 1982, it resumed its US registration of N66571 and flew with Arnold Kolb Black Hills Aviation as a fire fighting tanker. After its service as an aerial tanker was over, it was put on static display at the Pima Air Museum in Arizona as 44-83814 until 1984. On 25 April 1984, it was put into long term storage with the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, where it remained until 15 January 2009 when it was delivered to the National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force in Pooler, GA.

44-83814's fuselage arrives at the museum on a flatbed

44-83814’s fuselage arrives at the museum on a flatbed

44-83814's old N-number N66571

44-83814’s old N-number N66571

Wings removed and covered with a multitude of patches, 44-83814 needed a lot of work in January 2009

Wings removed and covered with a multitude of patches, 44-83814 needed a lot of work in January 2009

Preparing to lift 44-83814 off of the flat bed she arrived on

Preparing to lift 44-83814 off of the flat bed she arrived on

Lifting 44-83814 off of the flatbed before moving her into the musuem

Lifting 44-83814 off of the flatbed before moving her into the musuem

44-83814's fuselage in the background and part of one of the wings in the foreground before being moved inside

44-83814’s fuselage in the background and part of one of the wings in the foreground before being moved inside

Moving one of 44-83814's wingtips

Moving one of 44-83814’s wingtips

Moving one of 44-83814's wings

Moving one of 44-83814’s wings

44-83814 resting outside of the National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force before being moved inside

44-83814 resting outside of the National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force before being moved inside

44-83814 after being moved inside and partially reassembled as restoration began

44-83814 after being moved inside and partially reassembled as restoration began

44-83814's tail reattached before the tail number and N-number were removed.

44-83814’s tail reattached before the tail number and N-number were removed.

44-83814 has been undergoing restoration by volunteers since it arrived at the museum, but not as 44-83814. Instead, it is being restored as 43-39049, an aircraft that did see combat action during World War II and had a connection to the Savannah area. Scrapped after it returned stateside from action in World War II, 43-39049 was the 5,000th aircraft to be processed through Hunter Field in Savannah for service in the European Theater. Additionally, during 1944 the people of Chatham County raised $500,000 to build a B-17 and train it’s crew; it just so happened that it turned out that aircraft was 43-39049. In honor of the fundraising effort, 43-39049 was named “The City of Savannah.” As part of the delivery and processing, it carried lettering on the fuselage recognizing that it was the “5,000th Aircraft processed through Hunter Field, GA.” As you can see in the photos above, the bomber arrived in pieces, but was quickly moved into the museum and reassembled for restoration, an effort which, although still ongoing, has radically altered its appearance.

7 years and a lot of work later, 44-83814 looks a lot different

7 years and a lot of work later, 44-83814 looks a lot different

44-83814 is being restored as 43-39049, the City of Savannah

44-83814 is being restored as 43-39049, the City of Savannah

Looking into the nose of the City of Savannah through where the nose cone would normally be

Looking into the nose of the City of Savannah through where the nose cone would normally be

Gone are all of the patches that covered the fuselage when it first arrived

Gone are all of the patches that covered the fuselage when it first arrived

Detail of a Type B-22 Turbosupercharger under one of the engine nacelles

Detail of a Type B-22 Turbosupercharger under one of the engine nacelles

A type B-22 Turbosupercharger displayed near the City of Savannah

A Type B-22 Turbosupercharger displayed near the City of Savannah

Unit markings and the City of Savannah's tail number 43-39049

Unit markings and the City of Savannah’s tail number 43-39049

Ball turret on the City of Savannah's belly

Ball turret on the City of Savannah’s belly

Once again, compare this shot to one of the ones from 2009, the amount of that has been work done is simply massive. The small window looks in on the radio compartment

Once again, compare this shot to one of the ones from 2009; the amount of work that has been work done is simply massive. The small window looks in on the radio compartment

A look at the City of Savannah's nose turret and guns

A look at the City of Savannah’s chin turret and guns

The City of Savannah's tail guns

The City of Savannah’s tail guns

Part of the restoration efforts included work by some Savannah area amateur radio operators to restore the aircraft’s radio equipment. As a result of their efforts, the “City of Savannah” has a fully operational BC-348 receiver. I understand from those more knowledgeable of the period tube gear that the transmitter has the potential to be restored as well. There are also provisions to set up a modern amateur radio station at the B-17’s radio operator position for use in special event stations related to the military and the museum using the callsign WW2COS, recognizing both World War II and the bomber’s name. I’ve had the opportunity on several occasions to operate from the “City of Savannah” and I can honestly say it is both a sobering experience and an honor.

Banner promoting the amateur radio activities associated with the "City of Savannah"

Banner promoting the amateur radio activities associated with the “City of Savannah”

Functioning BC-357 receiver at the B-17 radio operator's position.

Functioning BC-357 receiver at the B-17 radio operator’s position.

Looking forward from the radio compartment through the bomb bay into the cockpit

Looking forward from the radio compartment through the bomb bay into the cockpit

Looking out from the radio operator's position at ongoing restoration work

Looking out from the radio compartment at ongoing restoration work

WW2COS QSL Card

WW2COS QSL Card

If you’re interested in learning more about the “City of Savannah” and its restoration, B-17 Flying Fortress Restoration:  The Story of a World War II Bomber’s Return to Glory in Honor of the Veterans of the Mighty Eighth Air Force by Jerry McLaughlin, the restoration project manager is scheduled for publication in May. I’m truly looking forward to reading more about the restoration project. I assisted some amateur radio operators that worked on the restoration of some of the aircraft’s radio equipment, but my job moved from Rincon to Brunswick shortly after the work began, which meant that I was rarely around when they were working on the radio gear. For more information on the book and its publication date, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.


1 Comment

  1. […] Then and Now, the B-17G “City of Savannah” […]

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