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  B-17D "The Swoose (It Flys), Ole Betsy" Serial Number 40-3097  
USAAF
19th BG

Former Assignments
11th BG
14th BS

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USAAF Sept 9, 1941

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USAAF c1944

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USAAF June 1945

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NASM 1946

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NASM 1999

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USAF Museum 2008

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle, during April 1941. Constructors Number 2125. This was the 38th B-17D built from a production run of 42 . Delivered to the U. S. Army on April 25, 1941.

Assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group. On May 13, 1941 took off from Hamilton Field on a ferry flight to Hickam Field as part of a delivery of B-17C and B-17D arriving during the morning of May 14.

In Hawaii, assigned to the 11th Bombardment Group, 14th Bombardment Squadron, adorned with red and white striped tail, with tail number 21. Nicknamed "Old Betsy" but carried no nose art.

During September 1941, this B-17 was part of the first group of 14th Bombardment Squadron B-17s to fly across the Pacific, the longest mass flight of land based aircraft in the world to date. The group flew across the Pacific via Rabaul, 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby on September 9, 1941 and Darwin before finally arriving at Clark Field on Luzon in the Philippines.

Wartime History
On December 8, 1941 this B-17 flew what was likely the first American combat mission of the war when it took off from Del Monte Airfield on a reconnaissance mission piloted by an unknown pilot with co-pilot Robert S. Clinkscales.

In the middle of December 1941, took off from Del Monte Airfield piloted by Goodman on a bombing mission against Japanese forces in Lingayen Gulf. Soon after taking off, it experienced engine trouble and bombed the alternate target Davao arriving after dark, the first American night bombing mission of the war.

At the end of December 1941, this B-17 was evacuated from the Philippines departing Del Monte Airfield and flew to Singosari Airfield on Java.

On January 11, 1942 one of seven B-17s that took off from Malang Airfield on eastern Java at 5:55am piloted by Lt. Kurtz on a bombing mission against the Japanese landing force off Tarakan Island. The formation was led by B-17D "Ole Betsy" 40-3067 piloted by Major Cecil Combs (C. O. 19th Bombardment Group). Each bomber was armed with Dutch 600 pound bombs. Flying at 9,500' the formation encountered a tropical storm over the Java Sea and became separated.

Over the target at 11:30am, this B-17 bombed from 21,000' and missed then was attacked by three Zeros that slightly damaged the bomber. Aboard, her gunners claimed two before the third broke off the attack. Returning, this B-17 landed safely at Soerabaja Airfield on the north coast of Java and the next day he returned to Singosari Airfield.

During late January 1942, flown to Laverton Field near Melbourne for a complete overhaul. During the repair, this bomber was fitted with a new tail scavenged from B-17D 40-3091.

After repairs, 19th Bomb Group pilot Captain Weldon Smith to dub the aircraft "The Swoose" after the popular song Alexander the Swoose from a ditty written by Franklin Furlett and performed by bandleader Kay Kyser about a bird that was "half swan, half goose: Alexander is a swoose". On the starboard side of the fuselage was painted a bird with the "The Swoose (It Flys)" (sic).

Afterwards, this aircraft never returned to first-line duty, instead flying navigation and escort missions for fighters and anti-submarine patrols, until withdrawn from duty in March 1942.

Assigned as to for use as his personal aircraft and operated from Australia during early 1942. When General Brett was replaced by General Kenney, he flew back to the United States aboard "The Swoose" arriving August 4, 1942.

On December 9, 1942 "Swoose" arrived in Panama and assigned to the Caribbean Defense Command for use by General Brett, a combat vet from another theater to serve in Panama. Operated by CDC-PCD flight section. The regular pilot was Captain Jack Crane.

Went to the Panama Air Depot (PAD) at Albrook Field for work and was extensively modified, completed January 1943. Returned to PAD for additional word between April to July 1943 but continued to make flights during this period.

By 1944, the aircraft required extensive repairs following an inpsection during February that revealed cracked wing spars and corrosion that required the replacement of the inner wing panels. On March 7, conference was held at 6th Air Force service command to determine of the repairs were cost effective. A pair of B-17D inner wing panels were discovered by Captain Jack Crane at France Field and these were shipped on March 8, 1944 via barge from Albrook Field via the Panama Canal arriving the next day to Albrook Field.

Deciding to proceed, "Swoose" returned PAD on March 20, 1944 and the major overhaul and rework on the entire airframe was begun, requiring a staff double shift. On April 22, General Brett personally inspected the work, then only 45% complete. During this overhaul, four additional passenger seats and a galley were added and equipment brought up to model E standards. On the nose, the flags of all nations the aircraft had visited were painted. Repairs were completed on June 1, but cost more than the aircraft itself when new built.

During late 1944, redesignated "RB-17D", the "R" for restricted but continued to fly in the Panama area until the end of the war.

Postwar
Used by General Brett until December 1945 when he personally flew it from Mines Field (Los Angles Airport) to Kirtland Field, New Mexico and was later transported to War Assets Administration facility at Kingman, Arizona where it would be scrapped. Instead, the aircraft was saved by the efforts of Col. Frank Kurtz, who flew this bomber during the war and named his daughter Swoosie Kurtz after it.

On April 6, 1946, Kurtz flew the B-17 to Mines Field (Los Angles Airport) with passengers aboard including the mayor of Los Angeles and Mrs. Kurtz. Following acceptance ceremonies, airport personnel stored "Swoose" inside a hangar at the airport. Plans for war memorial fell through and Frank Kurtz arranged for the National Air Museum in Washington to acquire the aircraft instead.

Storage
During May 1948, Kurtz flew "Swoose" to Park Ridge, IL for storage. In June 1950 the USAF claimed the Park Ridge facility for military use. On Jan 18, 1952, an Air Force crew flew the plane to Pyote Airfield in Texas for storage. On December 3, 1953 flown to Andrews AFB, Maryland and stored outdoors for six years.

In April 1961, the plane was transported by truck to the National Air & Space Museum Paul Garber Facility and placed into storage in a preserved in an unrestored state from 1961-2008. The drift meter from this bomber is part of the NASM collection, Inventory Number: A19500075025. This is the oldest B-17 Flying Fortress in the world.

During July 2008, "The Swoose" was moved from National Air & Space Museum Paul Garber Facility to the USAF Museum, arriving on July 14, 2008. Visitors can see "The Swoose" in the restoration facility by signing up for a behind the scenes tour each Friday. Advanced registration is required.

Restoration
At this time, USAF Museum staff has not finalized restoration plans. The Swoose will undergo an extensive and detailed technical inspection. Based on the findings, the museum will determine how to best restore and display the historic aircraft. The extensive restoration is expected to take a number of years.

Eugene Eisenberg adds:
"The pilot of B-17D 40-3095 was Hank Godman, who became MacArthur's personal pilot during the early part of the war. His bombardier was John Wallach. I have his 1941 flight jacket that was given to him after flight training."

Relatives
Swoosie Kurtz (daughter of Col. Frank Kurtz) was named named "Swoosie" for this bomber

References
Fortress Against The Sun pages 28, 65, 99-100, 117, 132-133, 155, 157-158, 383, 386, 396, 406, 416
The Swoose: Odyssey of a B-17 by Herbert S. Brownstein, Smithsonian Press 1993.
The Swoose comes home to roost at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force July 14, 2008
NASM Drift Meter, B-3, Boeing B-17D "Swoose" Inventory Number A19500075025
NASM Profile B-17D "Swoose"
via WayBackMachine, removed after transfer to USAF museum
Alae Supra Canalem page 55 (photo), 56, 151-152
B-29 Hunters of the JAAF page 14

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Last Updated
January 9, 2018

 

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