How a Rare Warbird Survived

B-17E, serial number 41-2595

World War II saw the advent of daylight bombing with four engine B-17s and B-24s. Of the thousands of these bombers that were built, very few remain today. During the war there were 8,680 B-17Gs, 3,405 B-17Fs, and only 512 B-17Es built. Today there are approximately 43 B-17s left in the world. Of these, there exists numerous F and G models, some of them still flying. There is only one B-17D model, that located at the Smithsonian's Paul Graber Restoration Facility. Two E models exist along with 5 P-38s under 260 feet of ice in Greenland. There is also a derelict E in Bolivia, as well as one in New Guinea. There is one more E model, serial number 41-2595, and it is currently undergoing restoration near Chicago, Illinois.

XC-108A conversion

This story is of the rare B-17E located in Illinois. Its rarity may have been its salvation. As the F and G models were being phased into use during the war the older E models were pressed into other services. On August 17, 1943 serial number 41-2595 was taken to Patterson Field in Ohio to be converted from the standard E model to a cargo carrier as part of the C-108 program. 41-2595 was the second B-17 selected for the program to becoming a XC-108A. Modifications included stripping armor and armament, taking out the bomb racks, sealing the bomb bay doors and putting a floor over them. Other changes included moving the radioman and navigator behind the pilot and copilot in the area where the top turret was previously located, opening up the bulkhead door in the rear of the bomb-bay leading to the former radio room. Hardware was added for litters, cargo or troops.The most obvious extermal change was in the addition of a large hinged door that lifted upwards where the left waist gunner previously fought. The conversion was finished and was ready to enter back into service March 2, 1944. In late March 41-2595 was sent to India. It returned to the U.S. via the North Atlantic ferry route in October 1944 to Dow field at Bangor Maine. After service at Dow field it was authorized for salvage. For most of the WWII aircraft this would have been the end of the story. For 41-2595, however, it was just the start of a long dormat stage.

The Scrap Heap

The owner of an auto junk yard nearby Dow Field was the successful bidder for salvaging the B-17, as well as a B-25, a C-47, and an O-47. His kids went at the B-25 and cut it up into small pieces. Presumably the C-47 and the O-47 met the same fate, as there was no evidence of their prior existence. The B-17 started down the same path, but for some inexplicable reason the effort was abandoned. It is not known whether this was due to the to the heavy construction of the B-17, or the XC-108A modifications. It sat in this state, forgotten for over 35 years.

Found Again

While it sat in the junkyard, long forgotten, a forest literally grew up around the plane. Trees 6-8 inches in diameter grew around the wings, one in fact, grew under a wing, curved slightly around the edge, and continued upward. Leaves and twigs blew into open upside down wings and engine nacelles and composted, leaving a loose, black mixture to be cleaned out. The fuselage settled into the forest floor, leaving the bottom of the aircraft in doubt until it was dug out. Many small pieces around the plane were swallowed up by 40 years of leaves. It pretty much remained in this state until Mike Kellner of Lake Bluff, Illinois entered the picture.

In the mid 80's Mike and his brother Ken attended several auctions, looking for a project to restore. While Mike wanted a P-40, his other interest was B-17s. While attending an auction in Ohio they met a man that was putting together a database of airframes suitable for projects. Mike told him that they were looking for a B-17. Two weeks later the gentleman called back and said that he had located one in Maine. The deal done, Mike went to recover his airplane. The B-17 survived reasonably well in several large pieces, due in part to the fact that the forest had obscured the plane from view. Most of the airplane was comprised of seven large pieces, the forward and rear fuselage, a nose section that made up the bombardier and navigator compartment, and outboard and inboard wing sections (2 each). The plane and all of its parts eventually made their way to Gault airport in Illinois. It sat again for several years while extra parts and equipment could be rounded up.

NOW! The restoration is underway. You can follow the progress on the web.

   

  The restoration team consists:

Jeff Dingbaum

Mike Kellner

Mark Aragon

Bill Bower
Bill McGrath
John Patrizi

Ken Kellner

W.D. "Dip" Davis

Travis Shipley

Sam Brandt
Bill Kahl
Bill Stanczak
George Franklin
 

Sponsorship