One of the most iconic aircraft of the 20th century has arrived at the Pacific Aviation Museum at Ford Island after sitting idle in a Papua New Guinea swamp for 65 years.
Nicknamed the "Swamp Ghost," the B17E Flying Fortress arrived at the museum in seven Matson containers as a jigsaw of engines, fuselage and wings.
The historic airplane was lifted from the swamp in 2007 by David C. Tallichet and the 'Swamp Ghost Salvage Team.' It remained in Papua New Guinea until 2010, when Tallichet finally received clearance to bring it to Long Beach, Calif., where it remained until being purchased by the museum.
"It adds to our footprint in making us an internationally recognized museum," said Kenneth DeHoff, the museum's executive director. "It'll become part of our display, telling the whole story of World War II."
On the night of Feb. 22, 1942, the B17E was part of a Flying Fortress raid on Rabaul, a harbor in Papua New Guinea, which was controlled by the Japanese. After the bombing run, the formation headed back toward its base in Townsville, Australia. However, the airplane got into a running fire fight with at least nine Japanese fighter planes.
"They got a lot of fire coming at them, and our B17 got a round through one of the wing tanks, and it started draining (fuel)," explains Burl Burlingame, the museum's curator.
Pilot Fredrick Eaton decided on a belly landing, and ended up in the Agaiambo swamp on the north coast of Papua New Guinea. The nine-member crew made it out alive, but survival rates among B17 crews was extremely low. In the European theater, a Flying Fortress airman had about a one in four chance of surviving a tour of duty, which prior to 1944 consisted of 25 sorties.
"A crew member in these airplanes knew they were going into danger and they were going into harm's way. But, they knew there was an enemy that needed to be defeated, and they went willingly to it," said Burlingame.
The museum still needs about $5 million to complete its Flying Fortress display, which will feature the B17E resting within a compass rose as the plane's nose faces west, a tribute to all aviators lost in combat. The display will also be surrounded by memorial bricks that can be purchased for a loved one or a World War II pilot.
"The idea is to create a place that is a memorial of quiet contemplation, where you can reflect on the sacrifices people have made in the past," said Burlingame.
Those wishing to make a donation to the B17E display can visit the Pacific Aviation Museum website at www.PacificAviationMuseum.org.