Once home to B-17s, MacDill again welcomes 'Memphis Belle'

- Over the years, there have been plenty of remarkable airplanes in the skies over MacDill Air Force Base. But it’s been years since B-17 bombers rumbled down the South Tampa runways, so it was a special treat for airmen and their families when the ‘Memphis Belle’ herself arrived Tuesday.

The original Memphis Belle flew 25 World War II combat missions over Europe and her crew returned to the U.S. as heroes.  That part of the story is well-known thanks to the popular 1990 movie.  But many people don’t know that the bomber’s crew trained here in Tampa before picking up their plane in Maine and heading overseas.

During the war, MacDill Air Force Base – then known as MacDill Field – was an Army Air Corps bomber training base.  The Memphis Belle’s crew, along with many others, got to know each other and their aircraft by flying practice missions out of the airfield.

"If you were living in Tampa in the 1940s, you would have seen hundreds of these aircraft flying overhead," offered MacDill historian Stephen Ove.

After the Memphis Belle made its triumphant return to the States, the plane was again stationed at MacDill, giving rookie crews a chance to train on the most famous bomber of the war.

“They knew they were flying on history,” continued Ove. “That was possibly the reason that they wanted to reintroduce it into the training flightline was because the guys get it – you can do 25 missions and live.”

Since then, MacDill’s propeller-driven bombers have been replaced by huge refueling jets.  But crews that tend to those planes got to see the movie version of the Memphis Belle on Tuesday.

The replica version was built in 1945 but never saw combat; it stood in for the famed plane for the movie.  It visited MacDill for AirFest in 2004, along with the original plane’s pilot, Captain Robert K. Morgan, not long before his death.

The movie Memphis Belle is one of only about a dozen B-17s still flying.  It's based out Kissimmee, where rides are available for $450 per seat and $650 to take the bombardier’s seat in the glass nose.  

LINK: More information at warbirdadventures.com

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