Larger than Life: The True Story of the Memphis Belle
Hollywood has never let facts get in the way of a good story. Case in point: the 1990 movie Memphis Belle. The film invents characters, events, and entire missions for the sake of dramatic license. Of course, this in no way detracts from the storied reputation earned by the Belle, or from the valor of the men who flew in it. The United States Army Air Force (USAAF) added the Memphis Belle to its inventory on July 15, 1942. In September of that year the plane arrived in Bangor Maine, where it joined the 91st Heavy Bombardment Group. Its first combat mission occurred on November 7, 1942. The plane flew 24 additional missions, with the last one occurring on May 19, 1943. The name Memphis Belle came from pilot Robert K. Morgan, who named the aircraft in honor of Margaret Polk, the girl he loved; she lived in Memphis Tennessee. Morgan was from Asheville, North Carolina. RELATED: The HZ-1 Aerocycle Wasn't the Army's Brightest Idea
The plane was a B-17 Flying Fortress, the most celebrated aircraft of its type during World War II. In early testing it beat out competing designs from both Douglas and Martin, exceeding the military’s expectations in every way.
First introduced in 1935 as the Boeing Model 299, the B-17 evolved through a series of design enhancements both before and during the war. Total bomb carrying capacity expanded from 2000 to 8000 pounds, and an additional gun turret was installed under the chin.
During the war, military commanders limited a crew’s tour of duty to 25 missions; but the odds of a single crew surviving that long were slim indeed. In 1942 and 1943, the Allies still had a long way to go before gaining air supremacy over Europe. B-17s and their fighter plane escorts routinely fell victim to Axis pilots and ground-based anti-aircraft guns. Casualty rates among flyers rose as high as 80% in the war’s early days. So, when the men of the Memphis Belle became one of the first teams to complete their tour, they and their aircraft gained instant celebrity status.
RELATED: The Army's Quest for a Flying Jeep
In 1943 the army sent plane and crew home to the United States, where they toured the country promoting war bonds. After WWII, the Memphis Belle went to the city of its namesake, where it remained well into the 1980s. She suffered considerable damage during that time. Thieves stole virtually all the interior components, including the instruments from the cockpit. Birds nested inside of her, leaving droppings everywhere.
The plane remained in Memphis until 2005, when the USAF moved it to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio in 2005. As of the time of this writing, the Belle remains under the loving care of Air Force personnel, who are still working to restore it to its original glory. In the air or on the ground, she is one WWII vet who remains larger than life.
Click Here to Read the Original Article on BoldRide