'The Swoose' finds new home at Air Force museum

  • Published
  • By Sarah Parke
  • National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
The Swoose, the oldest surviving B-17 Flying Fortress and the only "D" model still in existence, was transferred from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. 

Shipment of this unique aircraft from Washington, D.C., is in progress and it is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.

"The early years of World War II were a time of both tragedy and heroism," said Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Charles D. Metcalf, the museum's director. "With The Swoose -- the only surviving U.S. aircraft from the beginning of the war in the Pacific on Dec. 7, 1941 -- the Air Force's national museum (received) a B-17 that is a veteran of the very first day of the war in the Philippines while assigned to the 19th Bomb Group in the Philippine Islands. This is a great story in our history."

The bomber, originally nicknamed "Ole Betsy," flew on the first combat mission in the Philippines only hours after the surprise attack against Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. For the next month, its crew hit back against Japanese invasion forces. Ole Betsy operated over a vast area of the Southwest Pacific, mounting strikes from Australia, the Philippines and Java.

In January 1942, during a bombing mission, enemy fighters damaged Old Betsy. The aircraft was repaired and overhauled with a replacement tail and engines from other B-17s, and a makeshift tail gun was added. Its pilot gave it a new nickname after a popular song of the time about a bird that was half-swan, half-goose --The Swoose.

Later, Gen. George Brett, commander of Allied air forces in the Southwest Pacific, used The Swoose as his personal aircraft to visit forward air bases in the combat zone. On some of these flights, the crew had to man the guns to fend off enemy attack. After it returned to the United States, it received additional modifications and served as a high-speed transport until the end of the war. Its operational retirement marked its service for the entire duration of World War II.

"We are pleased that The Swoose is coming to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force," said Terry Aitken, the museum's senior curator. "The transfer between the two federal institutions is a demonstration of good stewardship of our national historic collection. Our museum's restoration staff will use their experience and expertise being gained from the restoration of the famous Memphis Belle to accurately restore The Swoose, which is so important to our history."

The Swoose will undergo an extensive and detailed technical inspection. Based on the findings, the museum will determine how to best restore and display the historic aircraft. The extensive restoration is expected to take a number of years.

"The transfer of the B-17D The Swoose to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is the first step in an historic effort to refine our nation's military aircraft collection," said Dik Daso, curator of modern military aircraft at the National Air and Space Museum. "After the Air Force's restoration of the B-17F Memphis Belle is completed and their B-17G Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby moves from Dayton to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles (airport in Washington D.C), the National Air and Space Museum will be able to expand upon the European strategic bombardment story which is vitally important to our collections and curatorial goals. Our collection is enhanced, more aircraft will be on display and the nation will be the beneficiary of thoughtful stewardship that is due these historic fragments of our past."

Visitors may see both The Swoose and Memphis Belle in the museum's restoration facility by signing up for a behind the scenes tour held each Friday. Advanced registration is required and interested individuals can find more information by visiting http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/visit/tours/index.asp.

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