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Museum of Aviation confirms B-17 coming in August

WARNER ROBINS -- The Museum of Aviation expects to get a long-sought prize later this summer.

The museum posted on its Facebook page that a B-17 bomber will arrive in August to be put on display.

Tom McMichael, a Houston County commissioner and chairman of the Museum of Aviation Foundation board, said Wednesday the B-17 will fill a missing piece in the museum’s efforts to tell the story of World War II.

“This is going to be a tremendous addition to the museum,” he said. “It’s going to attract a lot of visitors.”

The plane has been outdoors at a museum in Indiana for 54 years and will undergo extensive restoration that will be viewable by the public, which is a departure of other restorations the museum has done.

The B-17, nicknamed the Flying Fortress, was extensively used over Europe during World War II. Youthful crews of 10 flew the planes at high altitudes, enduring freezing temperatures, fighter plane attacks, anti-aircraft fire and heavy losses to bomb Nazi targets.

The B-17 has been prominently featured in movies that include “Memphis Belle,” “Twelve O’clock High” and “Red Tails.”

The Facebook posting seeks volunteers and donors to help with the project.

The museum has for years made getting the venerable aircraft its top acquisition priority.

Efforts to reach museum Director Ken Emery for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday. Emery previously said the B-17 is the plane that visitors most often request to see that the museum doesn’t have.

Crawford Hicks, a B-17 pilot who lives in Warner Robins, is 94 but sounded like a little boy on Christmas morning when told Wednesday that the museum had announced the plane is arriving later this summer.

“Oh boy, oh boy,” Hicks said excitedly. “It’s pretty darn wonderful. There aren’t many of those around.”

Hicks flew 10 missions before getting shot down and taken prisoner. That was the last time he sat in a B-17 cockpit, and he hopes the museum will let him sit in the plane it is acquiring.

Hicks said the B-24, also prominently used in World War II, was a faster plane that carried more bombs, but most crews preferred the B-17 for its ability to sustain damage and return the crew home. He said his plane took damage on every mission he flew, and he saw many B-17s return with significantly more damage than his planes received.

The plane is coming from Grissom Air Museum at Grissom Air Force Base in Indiana.

Museum of Aviation curator Mike Rowland, who also could not be reached for comment Wednesday, posted on Facebook that the plane is in “rough shape,” but a restoration specialist has looked at it and gave “a good report.” He also said “the only reason we are able to get the B-17 is because we have the hangar space.”

The plane is going in the Scott Hangar, which is the museum’s newest hangar and is focused on World War II.

The B-17 will mark a major addition after a couple of years of unprecedented downsizing at the museum to cut costs. Part of the reason for the downsizing, museum officials have said, is to free up space and resources so that a B-17 could be acquired.

According to a history of the plane posted on the National Park Service website, it was delivered May 9, 1945, the day after the war in Europe ended. It served in non-combat roles until it was retired in 1960 as one of the last B-17s active in the military. Its last flight was to Grissom Air Force Base, then called Bunker Hill.

The museum has long been lobbying the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force to let it have a B-17 currently sitting outside at one of its museums and give it a home inside a hangar.

McMichael said his understanding is that Grissom did not put up a fight over the aircraft, recognizing that it needs to be indoors to be preserved. The disassembly is underway, he said. McMichael said it will be brought to the museum in August in a caravan of trucks.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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