Boeing B-17F Memphis Belle
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress flew in every combat zone during World War II, but its most significant service was over Europe. Along with the B-24 Liberator, the B-17 formed the backbone of the USAAF strategic bombing force, and it helped win the war by crippling Germany’s war industry.
The B-17’s design emphasized high altitude flight, speed, and heavy defensive armament in order to survive enemy defenses. Advanced turbosupercharged engines allowed it to fly up to about 30,000 feet with a combat load, while powered turrets and flexible guns covered all areas around the aircraft.
Although the B-17 prototype flew in 1935, only a relatively small number of B-17s were in service when the US entered the war in 1941. Production quickly increased, and three companies—Boeing, Lockheed-Vega, and Douglas—mass-produced Flying Fortresses by the thousands.
The B-17F was the fastest model and the primary heavy bomber early in the strategic bombing campaign. The later B-17G had a nose turret for better frontal defense, and it was also the most numerous, representing about two thirds of all B-17s made. By the end of production in May 1945, more than 12,700 B-17s had been built.
The aircraft on display, the famed B-17F Memphis Belle, became the first heavy bomber to return to the US after flying 25 missions over Europe. The Memphis Belle, which had been on loan from the Air Force to the city of Memphis, was relocated to the Museum in 2005, and after years of meticulous restoration, it was placed on public display in May 2018.