A Sentimental Journey Restoring a B-17 at the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum
In 1934, the U.S. Army Air Corps asked for a “battleship of the skies.” The specifications requested were very specific and Boeing designers were up for the challenge but also wanted to make sure that the bomber they designed could compete or beat their competitors. Therefore, the decision was made to build a revolutionary type of 4-engine bomber. One year later, an airplane like no other seen before, rolled out of the Boeing plant in Seattle, WA. The grandfather of the Flying Fortresses surpassed all Army requirements and set new range and speed records.
Over time, a total of seven modifications were needed for what was first named the XB-17. By the seventh, the B-17G incorporated a number of new features developed from extensive combat experience. The most noticeable, the powered chin turret remotely operated by the bombardier. The B-17G turned out to be the most produced model of the Flying Fortress – 12,731 were produced but roughly half were destroyed in combat or operational accidents.
During an Arizona Commemorative Air Force (AZCAF) member banquet in January of 1978, Colonel Mike Clarke announced the donation of the aircraft. The name “Sentimental Journey” was a result of a local media contest of more than 800 entrants. Permission was also secured from widower Harry James to add Betty Grable in her most tantalizing pose for the nose art of the plane. AZCAF volunteers immediately undertook the chore of cleaning, polishing and repainting the WWII markings and restoring the aircraft into excellent mechanical condition. After training a crew, the “Sentimental Journey” was ready to fly with the rest of the AZCAF fleet.
While the condition of the aircraft was excellent, it was not yet good enough. To AZCAF volunteers, “Sentimental Journey’ was not an authentic Flying Fortress. Therefore, in December of 1981, the wing voluntarily grounded the plane to undertake the full restoration. The restoration meant multiple trips to junkyards, lots of bargaining and trading and even some begging and contacting businesses that might be able to help fabricate a part that could not be located. The restoration itself took three years and started outside as the wing still did not have a hangar but was finished indoors when the new hangar was built.
One of eight B-17G’s still flying today, the “Sentimental Journey” tours the U.S. and Canada during the summer months on a separate path from the B-25 Bomber “Maid in the Shade. In the fall and winter months, she can be found at the Mesa, AZ museum for tours as well as Living History rides. Visit the “Fly with Us” page for available flight dates and times.
To read more about the B-17 Bomber and the “Sentimental Journey” restoration, visit our online store to purchase the book. For movie buffs, the B-17 Bomber can be found in the following Hollywood films:
Twelve O’Clock High – starring Gregory Peck
Force – starring John Garfield
The War Lover
Test Pilot – starring Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy
Command Decision – starring Clark Gable
Tora! Tora! Tora!