The B-17F Memphis Belle poses for photos before moving into the WWII Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force on March 14, 2018. Plans call for the aircraft to be placed on permanent public display in the WWII Gallery here at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on May 17, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kevin Lush)
Memphis Belle crew and ground crew celebrating the completion of the tour.
The aircraft was named after pilot Robert K Morgan’s sweetheart, Margaret Polk, a resident of Memphis, Tennessee. Morgan originally intended to call the aircraft Little One, which was his pet name for her, but after Morgan and copilot Jim Verinis saw the movie Lady for a Night, in which the leading character owns a riverboat named the Memphis Belle, he proposed that name to his crew. Morgan then contacted George Petty at the offices of Esquire magazine and asked him for a pinup drawing to go with the name, which Petty supplied from the magazine’s April 1941 issue.
The 91st’s group artist, Corporal Tony Starcer, copied the Petty girl as art on both sides of the forward fuselage, depicting her suit in blue on the aircraft’s port side and in red on the starboard. The nose art later included 25 bomb shapes, one for each mission credit, and eight swastika designs, one for each German aircraft claimed shot down by the crew. Station and crew names were stenciled below station windows on the aircraft after her tour of duty was completed.
Memphis Belle at one of the war bond tour stops.
In his memoirs, Morgan claimed that during his publicity tour he flew the B-17 between the Buncombe County Courthouse and the City Hall of Asheville, North Carolina, his home town. Morgan wrote that after leaving a local airport he decided to buzz the town, telling his copilot, Captain Verinis, “I think we’ll just drive up over the city and give them a little goodbye salute.” Morgan turned the bomber down Patton Avenue, a main thoroughfare, toward downtown Asheville. When he observed the courthouse and the city hall (two tall buildings that are only about 50 ft (20 m) apart) dead ahead, he lowered his left wing in a 60 degree bank and flew between the structures. He wrote that the city hall housed an AAF weather detachment whose commanding officer allegedly complained immediately to the Pentagon, but was advised by a duty officer that “Major Morgan…has been given permission to buzz by General Henry “Hap” Arnold.”
Boeing B-17F Memphis Belle on display in the WWII Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. B-17’s 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. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)