I found the experience of being inside these Spartan implements of war
somehow provided an emotional link to what those brave boys who flew
them on daily daylight bombing raids over Germany month after month
must have felt (to some extent).
The Collings Flying Fortress was built at Long Beach, CA by the
Douglas Aircraft Company and accepted on April 7, 1945. Although she
was too late for combat, #44-83575 did serve as part of the Air/Sea
1st Rescue Squadron and later in the Military Air Transport Service.
In April 1952, #44-83575 was instrumented and subjected to the effects
of three different nuclear explosions. After a thirteen-year “cool
down” period, #44-83575 was sold as part of an 800-ton scrap pile and
Aircraft Specialties Company began the restoration of the aircraft.
Damaged skin was fabricated and replaced on site; engines and props
were stripped, cleaned, repaired, and tested; four thousand feet of
new control cable was installed; all electrical wiring and
instrumentation was replaced. As she neared completion, the jeers and
laughter of those who said she would never fly again faded as the
sounds of four 1200 HP Wright-Cyclone engines echoed across the desert
and “Yucca Lady” rose as the phoenix and climbed into the sky.
For twenty years, without a major problem or incident, #44-83575
served as a fire bomber dropping water and borate on forest fires. She
was sold in January 1986 to the Collings Foundation. Restored back to
her original wartime configuration by Tom Reilly Vintage Aircraft, she represented one of the finest B-17 restorations and won several
In August 1987, while performing at an airshow in western
Pennsylvania, “Nine-O-Nine” was caught by a severe crosswind moments
after touchdown. The right wing lifted in the air, finally coming down
too far down the runway. Despite the efforts of her crew, she rolled
off the end of the runway, crashed through a chain link fence, sheared
off a power pole and roared down a 100-foot ravine to a thundering
stop. The landing gear sheared off, the chin turret was smashed and
pushed into the nose; the Plexiglas nose was shattered; bomb bay
doors, fuselage, fuselage, ball turret, wing and nacelles all took a
tremendous beating. Engines and propellers were also torn form their
mounts. Fortunately, there were no fatalities to the crew or riders
although there were injuries.
For a second time, this B-17 “rose from the ashes”. With nacelles from
the famed B-17 “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby”, thousands of volunteer hours,
support from the folks of Beaver Falls, PA, and donations from
individuals and corporations, she was made whole again to carry on the
proud and rugged heritage of the B-17.
Since the crash at Beaver Falls, the B-17 has succeeded in visiting
over 1200 tour stops. This means that millions, who would otherwise
never seen the Flying Fortress, have been able to experience first
hand the plane that helped change the history of the world fifty years
The Collings Foundation B-17 was named “Nine-O-Nine” in honor of a
91st Bomb Group, 323rd Squadron plane of the same name which completed
140 missions without an abort or loss of a crewman.
The original “Nine-O-Nine” was assigned to combat on February 25,
1944. By April 1945, she had made eighteen trips to Berlin, dropped
562,000 pounds of bombs, and flown 1,129 hours. She had twenty-one
engine changes, four wing panel changes, fifteen main gas tank
changes, and 18 Tokyo tank changes (long-range fuel tanks). She also
suffered from considerable flak damage.
After European hostilities ceased, “Nine-O-Nine”, with its six-hundred
patched holes, flew back to the United States. While the rigors of war
never stopped the historic “Nine-O-Nine”, she succumbed at last to the scrappers guillotine, along with thousands of other proud aircraft.
Tax deductible contributions to help pay off the annual operating
costs of two thousand dollars per hour can be sent to the Collings
Foundation at PO Box 248, Stow, MA. 10775.