I have been interested in World War II history, specificly the European Theater, and even more specificly, the air war, since viewing the movie "Memphis Belle" in 1990. Over the years I have read a lot of great stories about the air war in Europe, including that of the Memphis Belle, but of that I thought was most interesting was that of the B-17G "Thunderbird".

First of all, if you have not seen the movie "Memphis Belle" find it, see it, it is great. The movie follows the first B-17 crew attempting to survive 25 missions and return home. The movie seems to try to summarize everything that had happened to the crew over 25 missions all in one mission!  However, there is much to be learned and appreciated from the movie, including exactly what it took to carry out day-light strategic bombing in 1943. I found it fascinating to learn that the film makers were actually able to aquire 5 of the 8 flyable B-17s at the time to make the movie! In my opinion, the realism certainly shows. Amazingly, most of the currently flyable B-17s are end-of-the-war slightly used "G" models, but in 1943 most B-17s were F models (no chin turret being the most obvious difference).  Since the original Memphis Belle was a B-17F model, almost all of the B-17s used in the film were heavily modified to look like the F models, having chin turrets replaced and the planes painted olive green. All in all, a great movie, sure its got A LOT of Hollywood dramatic liscense, BUT a detailed and mostly accurate account of strategic bombing in 1943 Europe.

Memphis Belle Movie

The Thunderbird

The Thunderbird, a B-17G, serial number 42-38050, manufactured by Douglas in Long Beach, CA, flew 112 combat missions (most didn't get to 30 before being blown out of the sky) with the 303rd Bomb Group. She was accepted by the USAAF in November 1943 and arrived in the group on January 18, 1944, at Molesworth, England.

On January 23, 1944, she was assigned to the crew of 1st Lt. Vern L. Moncur, which had six previous missions in other bombers. After that crew completed her tour on April 10, she was used as a “new crew” aircraft, used to break in replacement crews, although eight of the missions were flown by the crew of 1st Lt. Richard K. Marsh between April 11 and June 2.

She flew her first mission on January 29, 1944 to Frankfurt, and her last on March 22, 1945 to Gelsenkirchen, Germany,  after which she was retired as "war weary". Returned to the United States after the war, she was sent to Kingsman, AZ, where she was scrapped! Scrapped!  She reputedly was crewed by 538 different airmen, none of whom suffered an injury aboard Thunderbird. NONE!? The mortality rate in the air war at this time period was staggering, and over 112 missions, and 538 men, not even an injury!

Here's a great website dedicated to the Thunderbird....Thunderbird historical website

Long after the war and long after the real "Thunderbird" was scrapped, a surviving "G" model, 44-85718, was beautifully restored to represent 42-38050, the "Thunderbird" for the Lone Star Flight Museum, out of Galveston, Texas.

I decided to make a 1/48 B-17G model and use the Thunderbird as the aircraft. Here is the end result:

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Comment by JEAN-FRANCOIS QUILLIEN on February 27, 2012 at 1:22am

And this awesome model !!

Comment by JEAN-FRANCOIS QUILLIEN on February 27, 2012 at 1:20am

Many thanks for this very interesting article, Brian!

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