Famed Memphis Belle aircraft a star of museum’s WWII events

Visitors to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force this weekend will have a rare chance to get an up-close glimpse of the famed WWII-era Memphis Belle aircraft. AIMEE HANCOCK/STAFF

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Visitors to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force this weekend will have a rare chance to get an up-close glimpse of the famed WWII-era Memphis Belle aircraft. AIMEE HANCOCK/STAFF

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force kicked off its celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Department of the Air Force on Saturday, inviting visitors to take a rare look inside the famed Memphis Belle aircraft.

The Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress flew in every combat zone during World War II, according to Rob Bardua, public affairs chief for the museum, and the Memphis Belle became the first heavy bomber to return to the U.S. after flying 25 missions over Europe.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to let the public have an in-depth look inside the Memphis Belle,” Bardua said. “It’s really one of the crown jewels of the museum; it’s an iconic aircraft that provided a great morale boost to both the Airmen and the public during WWII.”

The museum attracts visitors from around the country and world. Vietnam veteran Jim Judson made the trek from his home in North Carolina to visit the museum this weekend.

Judson, a Purple Heart recipient, said serving in the U.S. armed forces and appreciation for the military are a family commitment.

“I was in the service for three years, my brother served for four years, and my dad flew B-17s during World War II,” Judson said. “My grandsons know the history of the aircrafts through me, with the knowledge I received from my dad, so we’re passing it on.”

This is Judson’s first visit to the museum, a trip he has wanted to make for decades.

“It’s a privilege to come see the Memphis Belle,” he said. “This is something I always wanted to do with my dad, but we were never able to, so now I’m doing it with my grandkids.”

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Boeing B-17F Memphis Belle on display in the World War II Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/KEN LAROCK

Boeing B-17F Memphis Belle on display in the World War II Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/KEN LAROCK

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Boeing B-17F Memphis Belle on display in the World War II Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/KEN LAROCK

Thanks to detailed restoration efforts which spanned over 13 years, the Memphis Belle has been refurbished as close to its original state as possible, Bardua said. Refurbishment of the outside of the aircraft was completed in 2018, with restoration of the interior completed more recently.

“This was such a huge job, and our restoration team was extremely meticulous,” Bardua said. “You can’t get WWII paint anymore, so they had people from around the country blending different paints to get the right shade because they wanted it to look like it did after it completed its 25th mission.”

Sunday, Monday events

The World War II 75th anniversary events and access to the Memphis Belle will continue at the museum the next two days.

At 9 a.m. Sunday, there will be a B-25 flyover, and the U.S. Air Force Band of Flight will play 20-minute concerts in the Memorial Park at 2, 3 and 4 p.m. Between 4:30 and 5 p.m. Sunday, DC-3s will take off from the museum runway.

On both Sunday and Monday, a traveling World War II Memorial replica will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. As always, admission to the museum, and parking, is free.

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