It recorded no fatalities and flew over 200 missions: this formidable United States bomber was known as ‘Flak Bait’ – with very good reason
In Maryland, April 1943, manufacturing was being rounded up on the most recent Martin B-26 Marauder. Christened as ‘Flak Bait’ by its first assigned pilot James J. Farrell, the B-26 first took to the skies in the same month that it rolled off the production line. Unbeknownst to Farrell, the aeroplane would go on to live up to its name like none before it. And now, 75 years on, the twin-engine bomber is undergoing preservation in the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the National Air and Space Museum in Virginia. Upon completion of its preservation, ‘Flak Bait’ will be sharing the space with other famous feats of engineering, such as the space shuttle ‘Discovery’ and the B-29 ‘Enola Gay’.
The story of this incredible aeroplane begins with its first bombing mission, which occurred on August 16, 1943. True to her name - which was originally just a play on the name of Farrell’s family dog ‘Flea Bait’ – this B-26 would return home from nearly every single mission pierced and punctured from the anti-aircraft fire it would take. The flak would cause serious damage and occasionally injure the crew, with the aircraft even twice flying on just one engine and undergoing extensive damage to her hydraulic systems. Even so, Flak Bait would always make it back to base safely. So much so, in fact, that by the end of the war this B-26 would become the US bomber with the highest number of missions under its belt. Its final number amassed in active service was somewhere between 203 and 219, and as if this wasn’t impressive enough, ‘Flak Bait’ never once amounted any fatalities among its crew members.
Naturally, ‘Flak Bait’ went through its fair share of crews during its time serving in the United States Air Force. But these crews could not have wished to be in a more sturdy and reliable aeroplane, and indeed were incredibly lucky in their own right. A number of red bombs are painted on its nose section, like with many others of its time, which represent each of the individual bombing missions completed by the aircraft. The single black bomb on the third line represents the sole night-time mission undertaken by the aeroplane, as well as six red ducks which represent decoy missions. Most notable, however, is the single Nazi Swastika painted above one bomb. This small detail is representative of ‘Flak Bait’s one and only confirmed kill against a German aircraft throughout its service.
This seemingly unremarkable bomber certainly amassed an incredible number of missions. Now, the Smithsonian Museum and its team of dedicated experts are not restoring but conserving the aeroplane. Halting the effects of corrosion and cleaning the parts of the fuselage, the aeroplane will need great attention to detail after spending many a year with its various parts in crates. The flak-riddled fuselage will stand as a symbol for future generations to understand the risks and sacrifices that many endured during World War II. Due to be completed in 2025, keeping ‘Flak Bait’ on display will ensure that future generations of museum visitors will be able to see the beat-up old bomber that Americans used to help save the world in the 1940s.