UPDATE @ 6:35 p.m.: The historic bomber has been successfully moved to its new home inside the Word War II gallery.
The World War II B-17 bomber Memphis Belle, which arrived in pieces and sat for years in a restoration hangar at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, will be moved Wednesday evening to its display location.
The iconic bomber will be unveiled in May next to a new strategic bombing exhibit inside the World War II gallery.
A curator said the four-engine bomber with the famous nose art of two women will be displayed in a “very dramatic and impressive” way at the world’s largest military aviation museum, but won’t say exactly what that means.
“It will be displayed like we’ve never done before and visitors will be able to get close to the aircraft,” curator Jeff Duford said Wednesday, and the plane will be surrounded by Belle crewmen’s artifacts, from “funny” metal decorations to the radio operator’s boots.
The Belle will be kept under a tarp until its debut May 17, the 75th anniversary of the plane’s final mission against Nazi Germany to become the first Army Air Forces heavy bomber to fly 25 combat missions over war ravaged Europe and return to the United States.
The airplane grew to fame in two movies and a nationwide whirlwind war bonds tour after reaching the wartime milestone in May 1943.
“The story that’s attached to it, its fame, it’s unique,” Duford said. “There is no other heavy bomber airplane that represents the more than 30,000 (airmen) who died in heavy bombers in the fight against Germany. It is a national treasure.”
Since arriving from Tennessee in 2005, the plane has stood inside an old restoration hangar.
The Memphis Belle will replace the B-17 “Shoo Shoo Baby,” which was to be pulled out Wednesday and will eventually head to the National Air And Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Casey Simmons, a museum aircraft restorer, labored with others for years in painstaking detail to get everything right on the reborn Belle, from remaking unseen aircraft parts to detailed nose art repainted by hand.
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“Working on the airplane, you get so close to it, it’s kind of just like you’re working on another airplane,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like the Memphis Belle. But it’s when you go home and you start thinking about what you did that it actually hits you that, wow, this is pretty monumental and amazing.”
Two B-17Gs will fly over the Miami Valley and about 130 re-enactors will appear at the museum during the commemoration of the Belle and World War II set for May 17-19.
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