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How the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force restored a B-17 Bomber

Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 5:11 PM EST
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POOLER, Ga. (WTOC) - It took the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force ten years after it opened to secure what would become its signature historical piece.

It then required 12 years to reach the goal of returning this World War II B-17 bomber to full combat configuration - a fully volunteer restoration effort that has established the museum as experts in war bird community.

As with any classic, there is always work to be done on the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum’s signature attraction.

“The joke around here is it will never be done. We still have things we have to do to clean, to remove and replace. we have to do corrosion checks on the aircraft,” said Sam Currie, with the City of Savannah Restoration Team.

And that’s after 12 years of almost constant attention on “the City of Savannah’' - a rebuilding project that evolved from basic handiwork to expert craftsmanship before arriving at the pristine restoration the museum’s World War II B-17 bomber.

“In the war bird community, they have really elevated the museum by the work they’ve done on the City of Savannah. It is recognized again as one of the finest static restorations, And we have other groups that are now undertaking restoration or reconstruction of a B-17 now come to us and reference the work at the City of Savannah,” National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force President/CEO Scott Loehr said.

This piece of American military history was not restored by historians. It was a fully volunteer effort by hundreds of individuals across 60,000 volunteer hours.

“It’s not past tense. The work is ongoing. There’s still tinkering and fiddling and working on a couple of major elements of the restoration. And we are just delighted that they are still here and passionate and committed to the City of Savannah.”

When the fuselage arrived at the museum in January 2009, the restoration team quickly realized they couldn’t simply go to local the B-17 store for parts.

So, they educated themselves about the aircraft - inside and out - to be able to create most of what they would need to bring the flying fortress back to life.

“Pretty much everything, all the bracketry you see in there ... we have a retired Gulfstream engineer who pulls the plans for us digitally. He’ll clean them up and give them to us and we’ll do the fabrication with sheet metal, making brackets. Probably about seven or eight years ago, we couldn’t buy anything anymore. And that’s when we had to shift to making everything for ourselves for the most part,” City of Savannah Restoration Team member Greg Kindred said.

It was long, hard work that never felt like a job,

“They really are excited about working on a B-17. And they enjoy it, everybody enjoys it. I don’t think you’ll find any individual who says I don’t want to come to work. Everyone loves to come here and play with the airplane.”

And in doing so, established the Mighty 8th Museum on a whole new level - the team becoming the envy of and the authority within the very small community that does the work they did so well.

“Although there were 13,000 B-17s manufactured during World War II, there are very few remaining. And the City of Savannah is without a doubt the finest static restoration of a B-17 anywhere in the world. They’ve come a long way from not knowing what we don’t know to being the source, the go-to source for restoration of B-17s. So, my hat’s off to all of them, we owe them a huge debt of gratitude and we really are forever grateful.”

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