What’s happening with the world’s oldest B-17?

The National Museum of the United States Air Force is to recommence the restoration of ‘The Swoose’

The National Museum of the United States Air Force (NMUSAF) Restoration Division is to recommence the restoration/conservation of Boeing B-17D Flying Fortress 40-3097 The Swoose – the oldest example of the type in existence.

A wonderful view of ‘The Swoose

The 38th of 42 D variant built by Boeing and accepted by the United States Army Air Corps’ 19th Bombardment Group at March Field (today’s March Air Reserve Base), California, on April 25, 1941, 40-3097 is the only early ‘shark fin’ example of the type known to exist. It is also the only one to have seen action in the Philippines during the opening days of conflict in the Pacific following the United States abrupt entry to World War Two as Ole Betsy. Announced on April 20, 2023, the NMUSAF noted: “This is both a restoration and conservation project. Some airframe areas need repair and restoration for structural integrity and exhibit-worthiness, while others will be conserved as-is to maintain originality. The overall aim is to present the artifact in the context in which it was received, i.e., to preserve it in the configuration of its final mission.”

A rare view of
A rare view of Image via Wiki Commons

Following use across the Pacific as a bomber (during which is flew numerous raids against Japanese forces, was essentially rebuilt following a skirmish with Japanese fighters, and claimed two enemy fighters off the coast of Borneo!), the aircraft was converted into an ‘armed transport’ and nicknamed The Swoose, after then-popular song Alexander the Swoose about a half-swan, half-goose. Used as the personal transport for commander of Allied air forces Lt Gen George Brett in the Pacific and later as a personal high-speed transport in the US (where it set two point-to-point speed records) until his retirement in late 1945, The Swoose holds the distinction of being in operational service for the entire duration of the US’ war – December 7, 1941, through September 2, 1945. Brett’s personal pilot was Capt Frank Kurtz, a man who was later instrumental in the aircraft’s survival.

The Swoose
The Swoose BOEING 

Withdrawn from service in December 1945 and delivered to the extensive War Assets Administration facility in Kingman, Arizona where it was slated be melted down for its aluminium. There, the aircraft was saved by then-Colonel Frank Kurtz who persuaded the City of Los Angeles to acquire it and for use as a war memorial and flown to Los Angeles Municipal Airport on April 6, 1946.

‘The Swoose’ awaits its fate at
‘The Swoose’ awaits its fate at Image via Wiki Commons

However, this plan never came to fruition and three years later it was donated to the Smithsonian Institutes nascent National Air Museum in Washington – today’s National Air and Space Museum. Distmantled and stored in various locations, The Swoose was ultimately acquired by the NMUSAF in 2008 and transferred to its restoration facility at its Wright-Patterson Air Force Base-home in Ohio. With some work carried out on the aeroplane since then, it was announced in 2019 that work had been suspended to allow the NMUSAF's Restoration Division to “focus on higher priority restoration projects”.

Restoration work on
Restoration work on USAF-Ken LaRock

In its announcement, the NMUSAF said: “A combination of restoration and preservation will ensure its longevity, structural and historical integrity, and safe public display in a controlled environment. The minimally invasive preservation approach is one option in the spectrum of possible restoration, preservation, and conservation practice, and as in all NMUSAF restoration work assures the artifact's ethical treatment as a museum object. This means that the aircraft's identity as The Swoose will be maintained with as much original fabric in situ as possible.”

The Swoose –
The Swoose – USAF-Ken LaRock
As part of the NMUSAF earlier efforts,  40-3097’s ‘shark fin’ tail has already been restored…
As part of the NMUSAF earlier efforts,  40-3097’s ‘shark fin’ tail has already been restored… USAF-Ken LaRock
Traces of history: The flags of countries
Traces of history: The flags of countries USAF-Ken LaRock

With the work estimated to take at least seven years, the NMUSAF added: “This project strengthens the NMUSAF's identity as the premier collection of American combat aircraft and promises to increase visitorship by being the only "straight tail" B-17 on exhibit in the world. The Swoose's distinctive shape and its fascinating record of combat, reconfiguration, and transport service rounds out the Pacific Theater World War Two air power story and improves the Museum's Global Reach interpretation. Preserving the plane as it was received, i.e., as a transport, respects its integrity as an artifact, eliminates very difficult or impossible physical restoration and equipment issues, and helps tell Airmen's stories with authenticity. Airpower enthusiasts eagerly await its completion, and casual visitors will appreciate its unique story and appearance.”

The NMUSAF expects work to take some seven years…
The NMUSAF expects work to take some seven years… USAF-Ken LaRock