Daily Archives: June 9, 2024

9 June 1943

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, Memphis Belle, flies home from England, 9 June 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

9 June 1943: After completing 25 combat missions over Western Europe from its base at Air Force Station 121 (RAF Bassingbourne, Cambridgeshire, England), Memphis Belle, a U.S. Army Air Forces Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress, serial number 41-24485, assigned to the 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy), 324th Bomb Squadron (Heavy), was flown home by Captain Robert K. Morgan and Captain James A. Verinis.

The crew of the Memphis Belle after their 25th mission: (left to right) Technical Sergeant Harold Loch, Top Turret Gunner/Engineer; Staff Sergeant Cecil Scott, Ball Turret Gunner; Technical Sergeant Robert Hanson, Radio Operator; Captain James Verinis, Co-pilot; Captain Robert Morgan, Aircraft Commander/Pilot; Captain Charles Leighton, Navigator; Staff Sergeant John Quinlan, Tail Gunner; Staff Sergeant Casimer Nastal, Waist Gunner; Captain Vincent Evans, Bombardier; Staff Sergeant Clarence Winchell Waist Gunner. (U.S. Air Force photograph)

The daylight bombing campaign of Nazi-occupied Europe was very dangerous with high losses in both airmen and aircraft. For a bomber crew, 25 combat missions was a complete tour, and they were sent on to other assignments. Memphis Belle was only the second B-17 to survive 25 missions, so it was withdrawn from combat and sent back to the United States for a publicity tour.

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-22485, Memphis Belle, in flight over England, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Miss Margaret Polk, 1943.

The B-17’s name was a reference to Captain Morgan’s girlfriend, Miss Margaret Polk, who lived in Memphis, Tennessee. The artwork painted on the airplane’s nose was a “Petty Girl” based on the work of pin-up artist George Petty of Esquire magazine. (Morgan named his next airplane—a B-29 Superfortress—Dauntless Dotty after his wife, Dorothy Morgan. With it, he led the first B-29 bombing mission against Tokyo, Japan, in 1944. It was also decorated with a Petty Girl.)

Memphis Belle and her crew were the subject of a 45-minute documentary, “Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress,” directed by William Wyler and released in April 1944. It was filmed in combat aboard Memphis Belle and several other B-17s. The United States Library of Congress named it for preservation as a culturally significant film.

After returning to the United States, Memphis Belle was sent on a War Bonds tour. In this photograph, it is parked at Patterson Field, Dayton, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

Following the War Bonds tour, Memphis Belle was assigned to MacDill Field, Tampa, Florida, where it was used for combat crew training.

Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress 41-224485, “Memphis Belle,” arrives at the NACA Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory at Lewis Field, Cleveland, Ohio, 7 July 1943. (NASA)

After the war, Memphis Belle was sent to a “boneyard” at Altus, Oklahoma, to be scrapped along with hundreds of other wartime B-17s. A newspaper reporter learned of this and told Memphis’ mayor, Walter Chandler. Chandler purchased it for its scrap value and arranged for it to be put on display in the city of Memphis. For decades it suffered from time, weather and neglect. The Air Force finally took the bomber back and placed it in the permanent collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where it has been undergoing a total restoration for the last several years.

“On July 17, 1946, at 2:55 p.m., the Memphis Belle rolled to a stop in front of the Administration Building at Municipal Airport and ended its final flight. The plane had been stored in Altus, Okla. Mayor Walter Chandler (fifth left in white suit) and some 200 people greeted the Belle and the final flight’s crew (from left) Stuart Griffin, radioman; Lt. James Gowdy, navigator; Capt. Hamp Morrison, co-pilot; Capt. Robert Little, pilot; Sgt. Percy Roberts Jr., engineer; Capt Robert Taylor, co-navigator and Tech Sgt. Charles Crowe, engineer. (Editor’s Note: This crew was the crew that flew the plane from Altus, Okla.; not the wartime flight crew)” (The Commercial Appeal)

The Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 74 feet, 8.90 inches (22.781 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9.38 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1.00 inch (5.187 meters). The wings have 3½° angle of incidence and 4½° dihedral. The leading edge is swept aft 8¾°. The total wing area is 1,426 square feet (132.48 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer has a span of 43 feet (13.106 meters) with 0° incidence and dihedral. Its total area, including elevators, is 331.1 square feet (12.18 square meters).

The B-17F had an approximate empty weight of 36,135 pounds (16,391 kilograms), 40,437 pounds (18,342 kilograms) basic, and the maximum takeoff weight was 65,000 pounds (29,484 kilograms).

The forward fuselage of Memphis Belle dismantled for restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton Ohio. The “Petty Girl” on the right side of the airplane is in red. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-17F was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liters) Wright Cyclone G666A (R-1820-65)¹ nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.70:1. The engines were equipped with remote General Electric turbochargers capable of 24,000 r.p.m. The R-1820-65 was rated at 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine could produce 1,380 horsepower at War Emergency Power. 100-octane aviation gasoline was required. The Cyclones turned three-bladed, constant-speed, Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-65 engine is 3 feet, 11.59 inches (1.209 meters) long and 4 feet, 7.12 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter. It weighs 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

The B-17F had a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed was 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), though with War Emergency Power, the bomber could reach 325 miles per hour (523 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet for short periods. The service ceiling was 37,500 feet (11,430 meters).

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, the Memphis Belle, under restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

With a normal fuel load of 1,725 gallons (6,530 liters) the B-17F had a maximum range of 3,070 miles (4,941 kilometers). Two “Tokyo tanks” could be installed in the bomb bay, increasing capacity by 820 gallons (3,104 liters). Carrying a 6,000 pound (2,722 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers).

The Memphis Belle was armed with 13 Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns for defense against enemy fighters. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the dorsal and ventral positions. Four machine guns were mounted in the nose, 1 in the radio compartment, 2 in the waist and 2 in the tail.

Restoration of the B-17 Flying Fortress Memphis Belle progresses. (Air Force Times)

The maximum bomb load of the B-17F was 20,800 pounds (9434.7 kilograms) over very short ranges. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) of high explosive bombs were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs. Two external bomb racks mounted under the wings between the fuselage and the inboard engines could carry one 4,000 pound (1,814.4 kilogram) bomb, each, though this option was rarely used.

The B-17 Flying Fortress was in production from 1936 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The manufacturer codes -BO, -DL and -VE follows the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 3,405 of the total were B-17Fs, with 2,000 built by Boeing, 605 by Douglas and 500 by Lockheed-Vega.

Only three B-17F Flying Fortresses, including Memphis Belle, remain in existence. The completely restored bomber went on public display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, 17 May 2018.

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, “Memphis Belle,” photographed 14 March 2018 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

Memphis Belle ® is a Registered Trademark of the United States Air Force.

¹ Later production B-17F and B-17G bombers were equipped with Wright Cyclone C9GC (R-1820-97) engines.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

9 June 1928

Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, MC, AFC. (National Archives of Australia)
Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, M.C., A.F.C. (National Archives of Australia, A1200, L93634)

9 June 1928: At 10:50 a.m., Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, M.C., and his crew completed the first trans-Pacific flight from the mainland United States of America to the Commonwealth of Australia. They landed their airplane, a Fokker F.VIIb/3m named Southern Cross, ¹ at Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. The airplane’s crew were Kingsford Smith, pilot; Charles Ulm, co-pilot; Harry Lyon, navigator; and James Warren, radio operator. Their historic flight had begun at Oakland, California, on 31 May.

The first leg of the flight from Oakland Field, California, to Wheeler Field was 2,406 miles (3,873 kilometers). The elapsed time was 27 hours, 27 minutes. After resting in Hawaii, the crew took off on the second leg to Suva, Fiji, a distance of 3,167 miles (5,097 kilometers). Southern Cross landed at Albert Park. It was the very first airplane to land in Fiji. This was the longest leg and took 34 hours, 33 minutes. The final leg to Brisbane covered 1,733 miles (2,788 kilometers) and took 21 hours, 35 minutes. They landed at Eagle Farm Airport, just northeast of Brisbane, at 10:50 a.m., 9 June 1928. An estimated 25,000 people were there to see the arrival.

Kingsford Smith’s Fokker F.VIIb/3m Southern Cross, landing at Brisbane, 10:50 a.m., 9 June 1928. (State Library of Queensland)
Kingsford Smith’s Fokker F.VIIb/3m Southern Cross, landing at Brisbane, 10:50 a.m., 9 June 1928. (State Library of Queensland)

The Fokker F.VIIb/3m was designed and built as a commercial airliner. It was heavier and had a larger wing than the F.VIIa/3m. It was 14.6 meters (47.9 feet) long, with a wingspan of 21.7 meters (71.2 feet) and 3.9 meters (12.8 feet) high. The wing had an area of 67 square meters (721 square feet). Its empty weight was 3,050 kilograms (6,724 pounds) and the gross weight, 5,200 kilograms (11,464 pounds).

The F.VIIb/3m had a cruise speed of cruise 170 kilometers per hour (106 miles per hour), and maximum speed of 190 kilometers per hour (118 miles per hour). Its service ceiling was 4,750 meters (15,584 feet). It had a normal range of 1,240 kilometers (771 miles).

The crew of Southern Cross at Eagle Farm, 9 June 1928. (Left to right) Captain Harry Lyon, navigator; Charles Ulm, co-pilot; Charles Kingsford Smith, pilot; and James Warner, radio operator. (National Archives of Australia A1200, L36325)

Southern Cross had been built by N.V. Koninklijke Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek Fokker at Amsterdam, Netherlands, for Hubert Wilkins who intended to use it for Arctic exploration. It was the first long-wing F.VII, c/n 4954, which would later be referred to as the F.VIIb. The airplane was crated and shipped to the United States, where it was reassembled by Atlantic Aircraft Corporation, Fokker’s American subsidiary in Teterboro, New Jersey. Wilkins’ expedition was sponsored by the Detroit News newspaper, and he named the new airplane Detroiter.

The airplane was damaged in a hard landing, and together with Wilkins’ single-engine F.VII, Alaskan, shipped to Boeing in Seattle, Washington, for repair. It is commonly believed that the two airplanes were used together to produce the rebuilt Southern Cross. While repairs were ongoing, Wilkins sold the Fokker to Kingsford Smith for $3,000. Kingsford Smith had the original Wright J-4 engines replaced with J-5 Whirlwinds, and the fuel capacity increased to 1,267 gallons (4,872 liters).

The very thick wing of the Fokker F.VIIb/3m can be seen in this photograph of Southern Cross. (State Library of Queensland)

Southern Cross was powered by three air-cooled, normally-aspirated 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Aeronautical Corporation Model J-5 Whirlwind 9-cylinder radial engines. These were direct-drive engines with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. The J-5 was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 220 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. The engine was 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) long and 3 feet, 9 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter. It weighed 508 pounds (230.4 kilograms).

Southern Cross was registered to Charles E. Kingsford Smith, et al., 18 October 1927, by the United States Department of Commerce Aeronautics Branch. It was assigned the registration mark NC1985. (The registration was cancelled 20 March 1930.)

The expense of completing the repairs to the airplane took most of Kingsford Smith’s money, so he sold the airplane to George Allan Hancock, owner of Rancho La Brea Oil Company—think, “La Brea Tar Pits”—the developer of the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles, and founder of Santa Maria Airport in Santa Barbara County, California. Hancock loaned Southern Cross back to Kingsford Smith for the Trans-Pacific flight.

An estimated 25,000 people were waiting at Eagle Farm for Southern Cross’ arrival. (Sydney Morning Herald)

Following its arrival in Australia, the Fokker was re-registered G-AUSU. When Australia began issuing its own aircraft registrations, this was changed to VH-USU.

After several other historic flights, Kingsford Smith donated Southern Cross to the government of Australia to be placed in a museum. It was stored for many years but is now on display at the Kingsford Smith Memorial at Brisbane Airport. ²

Kingsford Smith, formerly a captain with the Royal Air Force, was given the rank of Air Commodore, Royal Australian Air Force, and awarded the Air Force Cross. He was invested Knight Bachelor in 1932. Sir Charles continued his adventurous flights.

On 8 November 1935, while flying Lady Southern Cross, a Lockheed Altair, from Allahabad, India, to Singapore, Air Commodore Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, A.F.C., M.C., and his co-pilot, Tommy Pethybridge, disappeared over the Andaman Sea.

Fokker F.VIIB/3m Southern Cross
Fokker F.VIIb/3m, NC1985, Southern Cross at the Kingsford Smith Memorial, Brisbane Airport. (FiggyBee via Wikipedia)
Crux, the Southern Cross.

¹ Southern Cross refers to the constellation Crux, one of the most easily recognizable constellations in the southern hemisphere. The constellation is seen on the national flags of Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Samoa.

² At the time of the Pacific crossing, the fuselage of Southern Cross was painted a light blue color, reportedly the same shade being used on U.S. Army Air Corps training aircraft at the time. It was later repainted in a darker blue, similar to the flag of Australia.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes