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Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress in Detail

n by Bryan Ribbans

Visiting the 'Memphis Belle'

Yes, this is the real one! The following photo walkaround is of the original Memphis Belle, subject of the famous William Wyler colour film shot over the skies of Europe all those years ago. Now she rests preserved in her 'home town' of Memphis, Tennessee, located in a purpose built dome type structure on Mud Island. This is an actual island sitting in the Mississippi River reached by a short ride on a monorail from downtown Memphis riverside. It actually sits at one end of a park area which contains a local museum, swimming pool and a fantastic replica of the entire Mississippi river trail in miniature which finishes in the swimming pool!

This location, it has to be said, is not ideal. The structure is purely a form of  tent over the aircraft site and thus is open to severe changes in temperatures. Whilst I was there it was incredibly hot under it and one could not stay for long without seeking liquid refreshment and air-conditioning. However, for the model maker the effect the dome has on photography is even worse. As you will see from these prints they are not up to my usual standard; some appearing dark whilst others appear with a yellowish cast. This is due to the light falling through the roof. The ome material has a distinct yellow tinge to it which no matter how one sets the camera up will show on all the prints. There is no other form of artificial lighting under there at all - just natural daylight. It takes a long while for your eyes to get focused correctly under these conditions just to look at it, so what chance has your camera got in a split second? None...

All of this preamble is to say that the photos have been scanned and digitally enhanced at the best settings I can get and that's that. 

However, this is a very famous airplane, one of only a very few model F's and arguably the most famous "F" of them all. And one can get all around it. 

The paint scheme

Belle has been shabbily treated over the years and it is only in the last few years that a determined effort was made to restore her to her former glory; and what a good job was done! I don't know what she is like inside - the cockpit looks good from what I could see - but externally she is gorgeous! The paint work is very well done, faithful to the original and it really does look realistic being very matt.

The famous Belle artwork has been faithfully re-applied. Something that I personally did not know is that it is carried on both sides of the nose, one in red and one in blue - I wonder how many people realise that... I came straight back and checked my references when I got home and sure enough, there it was! Each of the flight station postions carry artwork externally along with the bomb tally on the port nose. And note the fancy wheel hub covers which are different colours on either side of the aircraft.

Personally, whilst I am pleased to see that the old lady has been restored I would prefer to see her in a proper museum and surely the place for this is the USAF Museum at Dayton, Ohio where she would be visible under much better controlled conditions and where she can continue to recieve the sort of treatment that will keep the airframe preserved for future generations; just a thought.

There are kits available in 1/72 and 1/48 and aftermarket decals sheets featuring Belle in all her glory so now there is no excuse not to finish a B-17F in perhaps the most famous colour scheme of all early Forts. If you ever get to Memphis she is worth a visit and be thankfull that the swimming pool is just a few yards walk away; it's damn hot in summer.

Painting by Robert Karr

Boeing B-17F 41-24485 in Detail

A set of over 20 photographs has been divided into three sections. Follow the links below.

Nose area
Including the famous Belle artwork.

Engines and wings
The four Wright Cyclones and the surrounding wing area

Rear fuselage and tail
From the waist to the tail.


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