Our B-17 Restoration Project

Mission Statement: “The B-17 Flying Fortress “City of Savannah” will be restored to its full combat configuration, including operational systems and components, with the goal of making it the finest static display B-17 in the world.”

The B-17G comes to us from the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC after a decade-long search for this rare heavy bomber. The aircraft, alongside the B-24 Liberator, was flown on combat missions to German targets between 1942-1945.

The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force is pleased to utilize this original airplane in our educational programs and in our mission to preserve and present the legacy of the courageous airmen and women who served in the 8th Air Force. This B-17 Flying Fortress is undergoing complete restoration and is on display now in our Combat gallery. Come, be a part of history in the making!

Restoration of the B-17 continues at a steady pace. You can be a part of the Museum’s B-17 Restoration Project by contributing to its funding.  The Museum appreciates all financial gifts, and for $100 or more you will receive a certificate of participation, suitable for framing, that recognizes your part in this historic Museum event. Please make all checks payable to “B-17 Project” and mail to the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, 175 Bourne Ave., Pooler, GA 31322. You can contribute online or contact Meghan Lowe at 912-988-1847, ext 101, to pay by credit card.

44-83814 was one of few Fortresses to escape the immediate post-war scrapyards, enter the civil market, and survive through the ensuing years.  Initially registered as N66571, the B-17 was sold to a Canadian survey firm in 1953 but returned to the U.S. for use as an air tanker beginning in 1971.  In 1981 it was traded to the National Air and Space Museum and is presently in long-term storage at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

As were many of the Fortresses that survived into the post-war period, 44-83814 was in the last block of Douglas-produced B-17s built at Long Beach.  Accepted for service on June 20, 1945, it was flown directly to Syracuse, New York, and placed in short term storage.  It was declared excess to military requirements on October 12, 1945, and flown to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation disposal lot at Altus, Oklahoma, arriving in early November 1945.  44-83814 remained at Altus until late 1947 when the North Dakota Public School District Number 3 obtained the aircraft for an unspecified purpose.  Though not confirmed by aircraft records, it is likely the arrangements provided that the B-17 was donated to the School District for instructional purposes but title was not transferred.  The government did not release its interest in the aircraft and specified that it was not to fly again.  A fair number of B-17s and other types were similarly placed on display in communities or made available for use at technical institutions.

Difficulties would ensue, however, in subsequent years as communities and schools sought to dispose of what had become eyesores or liabilities. Many local jurisdictions assumed they owned the aircraft and attempted to sell them on the civil market.  It often required years of litigation and eventual cash settlements made to the federal government to gain clear title.

It is not evident from the record the actual use 44-83814 was put to with the North Dakota School District Number 3, but the aircraft was probably flown to Hazen, North Dakota, from Altus and remained until 1951.  In any event, the Fortress was purchased from the District by Owen F. Williams of California-Atlantic Airways of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Williams apparently made good use of the confusion about legal title and purchased five B-17s from institutions who, it later turned out, didn’t actually legally own the planes.  Nonetheless, Williams was able to register his airplanes with the Civil Aeronautics Administration in a block of numbers between N66568 and N66574 (with the exception of N66569 and N66572 that were applied to other California-Atlantic Airways aircraft).  N66571 was applied to 44-83814.

Williams was able to neatly sidestep the title problem by selling N66571 to a Canadian survey company located in Toronto, Canada.  Sold to Kenting Aviation Co., N66571 was given the Canadian registration of CF-HBP.  Based at Oshawa, CF-HBP arrived on May 12, 1953, with 855 hours of flight time logged on the airframe.  It would eventually be joined by two additional B-17s, B-17E 41-9210 (CF-ICB) and B-17G 44-83873 (CF-JJH).

Kenting Aviation employed CF-HBP in a variety of projects over the years that included air survey operations in the Canadian arctic and around the world.  It was also reportedly used in support of construction of the Distant Early Warning Line in Canada and Greenland in 1955.  Registration records indicate ownership was transferred to Photographic Survey Corp. of Toronto on May 15, 1957, and then  to the Hunting Survey Corporation of Toronto on February 11, 1960, before returning to Kenting Aviation on April 9, 1962.  It is not known if ownership actually transferred to different companies or if these firms operated as subsidiary units to Kenting Aviation.  CF-HBP remained active on the Canadian aircraft register until April 1, 1971, when it was sold to Arnold Kolb of Alamogordo, New Mexico.  CF-HPB was deleted from the Canadian registry on April 16, 1971.

The FAA reassigned 44-83814 its original registration number of N66571.  Kolb operated Black Hills Aviation at Spearfish, South Dakota, and later at Alamogordo, New Mexico, and owned a number of B-17Gs, including 42-102715 (N66573), 44-83864 (N73648), and 44-85813 (N6694C), all of which he employed as air tankers.  Kolb put N66571 right to work after making necessary modifications to an air tanker configuration.  N66571 remained active as a tanker through 1981 when Kolb finally traded his B-17 to the National Air and Space Museum for a pair of surplus Navy P-2s (SP-2H BuNo 144681 and SP-2H BuNo 150282) from Davis-Monthan AFB.

Ownership was transferred on January 19, 1981 at Davis-Monthan AFB.  N66571 was stripped of paint and had its original military serial number applied before being placed on temporary display at the Pima Air Museum located next to the base.

44-83814 remained at the museum until April 1984 when the NASM arranged to have Kolb and his son fly the bomber to Dulles International via Alamogordo, New Mexico.  At Dulles, the NASM prepared it for long-term outdoor storage into which the Fortress was placed in July 1984.

Future plans for the B-17 are uncertain.  In 1999, the NASM formally began funding and construction of a new display facility at Dulles International.  However, the aircraft slated for display at the new facility do not include 44-83814.  The other B-17 in the NASM collection, the Swoose (40-3097) will be displayed but it would appear that the museum’s B-17G will remain in indefinite storage.

Restoration on the B-17 continues in the Combat Gallery. The “City of Savannah” was re-dedicated on January 28, 2015 on the anniversary of the start of the Eighth Air Force in Savannah.

  • B-17 on display has been named “City of Savannah” to commemorate the original ship and to honor the Kittle crewmen
  • The bomber’s restoration work to its original WWII battle ready condition will be done in the Combat Gallery, as an active, dynamic display
  • Much of the actual work is being (and will be) done by volunteer workers and by various professional services donated by supporting companies.

Contact the head of the restoration team, Sam Curry, to find out how you can help out.

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