Tails of Two Cities

 

B-17 Flying Fortress Restoration

will tell you the story of the restoration of a B-17, named City of Savannah, (tail # 44-83814) at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, AND, the story of the first B-17 (tail # 43-38049) that carried the same name in 1944-45.

The original City of Savannah B-17 Bomber

          The B-17G, 43-38049, departing Savannah on December 4, 1944.

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  • THE ORIGINAL CITY OF SAVANNAH

    The original B-17 Flying Fortress to have the name City of Savannah came off of the Boeing assembly line in late 1944 identified as tail number 43-39049. At the same time the good people of Chatham County, Georgia, raised $500,000 to cover the cost of building a B-17 bomber and training the 10-man crew. Standard procedure in 1944 for matching crews and airplanes for deployment to the Eighth Air Force, in England, was for a crew to be transported to, and paired with an airplane at, Hunter Field in Savannah, Georgia.

    Shortly after Thanksgiving 1944, the U.S. Army Air Corps assigned a flight crew led by Lt. Ralph Kittle to the B-17 financed by Chatham County, tail number 43-38049. The airplane was named the City of Savannah in honor of everyone in Chatham County who had donated funds to build it.

    The City of Savannah, and Lt. Kittle’s crew, departed Savannah on December 4, 1944. After their arrival in England, the Kittle crew underwent Combat Crew Training and was assigned to the 388th Bomb Group at Knettishall, East Anglia. The original City of Savannah was furnished with combat upgrades on January 12, 1945, and assigned to the 487th Bomb Group in Lavenham.

    Just five months after the City of Savannah landed in England, the war in Europe ended. Two months later, the airplane was flown back to the U.S. It landed at Bradley Field, Connecticut, on July 12, 1945. On December 4, 1945, virtually a year to the day after it was dedicated as the City of Savannah, the airplane was declared surplus equipment. No longer needed, it was sold for scrap.

  • The Current City of Savannah B-17 Bomber

    The B-17G 44-83814 arriving in Savannah, January 15, 2009.

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  • THE 'NEW' CITY OF SAVANNAH

    The City of Savannah B-17 Flying Fortress that is now the centerpiece of the Combat Gallery at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force rolled off of the Douglas Aircraft Company production line in Long Beach, California, on May 15, 1945, one week after World War II ended in Europe. This B-17, with the tail number 44-83814, would never see combat. It would, however, manage to avoid the scrap heap and, instead, spend the next 30 years serving a variety of peacetime purposes.

    44-83814 was declared excess to military requirements on Oct. 12, 1945, and was ferried to a disposal depot operated by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation at Altus, Oklahoma. There it remained until 1947, when it was flown to Hazen, North Dakota, and parked in front of Public School #3 to serve as a war memorial. In 1951, California Atlantic Airways of St. Petersburg, Florida, acquired 83814. Two years later, California Atlantic transferred ownership to Kenting Aviation in Toronto, Canada. After a major re-configuration of its lower cockpit to allow for state-of-the art camera equipment, 83814 flew photographic mapping flights for Kenting from 1953 until 1971. On April 1, 1971, Kenting sold the B-17 to Arnold Kolb, the owner of Black Hills Aviation of Spearfish, South Dakota, and Alamogordo, New Mexico. Kolb retrofitted the airplane to serve as a firefighter/air tanker. From 1971 through 1981, 83814 flew several hundred missions, dropping fire retardant on forest fires throughout the southwest United States. In 1981, Kolb traded the airplane to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

    Finally, in 1984, Arnold Kolb and his son, Nathan, flew 83814 to Washington Dulles International Airport and formally delivered the B-17 to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, where it languished in a hangar for the next 25 years next to the space shuttle Enterprise.

  • 1984, Dulles Airport: Arnold and Nathan Kolb, father and son,
    the final flight crew of 44-83814.


     44-83814 next to the Spaceshuttle Enterprise in a Smithsonian hangar,
    Chantilly, Virginia, 2008

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  • WHERE IS THE 'NEW' CITY OF SAVANNAH NOW?

    In January of 2009 the Smithsonian gifted 83814 to the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. The airplane was disassembled and its various components—wings, fuselage, engines—were loaded onto tractor trailers and transported down I-95 to the Mighty Eighth museum in Pooler, Georgia. On January 16, 2009, the airplane was squeezed into the Combat Gallery of the museum and reassembled over the next week. The very next day after the reassembly was completed, the restoration process began. After six years of work by a dedicated band of 150 volunteers, major restoration of the airplane had been completed to the level that it could be declared an official exhibit. In January of 2015, the museum held a dedication ceremony to honor both the World War II veterans who served in the Eighth Air Force and the volunteer crew that restored the bomber to like-new condition.

  • The City Of Savannah today

  

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