The Memphis Belle is a famous World War II bomber. After a historic 25 mission stint in Europe, the B-17 eventually came to rest in Memphis where it spent the next 60 years. Below you will find history, trivia, and other information about this beloved plane.
The Memphis Belle was built by Boeing in 1942. It was soon assigned to the United States Army Air Forces' 91st Bomb Group where it was commanded by Captain Robert K. Morgan. After flying 25 missions over Europe, the plane was flown back to the United States in 1943. Back home, the Belle visited 32 cities on a war-bond tour after which, its mission was complete.
Morgan named the B-17 after his girlfriend, Margaret Polk, a resident of Memphis. On September 12, 1942, Morgan flew the plane to Memphis on a test flight. That evening he took Margaret to a dance at the Peabody and proposed marriage. Margaret accepted and the two were engaged for several months. Ultimately, though, the demands of the war proved to be too much for their relationship to withstand and the two parted ways. Margaret retained an active interest in the Memphis Belle, however, until her death in 1990.
Esquire magazine's April 1941 centerfold, created by George Petty, provided the inspiration for the pinup that was painted on the nose of the Memphis Belle. The pinup was painted by Tony Starcer and was clad in blue on the port side of the plane and red on the starboard side. In addition, a bomb was painted to represent each of the plane's 25 missions and a swastika for each of the eight German planes shot down by the crew.
Memphis Belle in Memphis:
In 1945, a reporter from The Commercial Appeal discovered the Memphis Belle in a scrap yard in Altus, Oklahoma. The reporter contact Memphis Mayor Walter Chandler and soon, the city had purchased the plane for a mere $350. In 1949, the Memphis Belle was displayed outside of the National Guard armory in Memphis where it sat for nearly 40 years. In 1987, a pavilion was erected on Mud Island to house the plane. It was still exposed to the elements, however, and the pavilion was eventually deemed unsuitable. In 2005, the Belle was given to the National Museum of the United States Air Force for restoration and display.