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Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress

The B-17 was primarily used by the USAAF in the daylight strategic bombing campaigns of World War II. The Evergreen B-17 has an interesting post WWII history.

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Aircraft Specs
  • Wing Span 103 feet, 9 inches
  • Length 74 feet, 9 inches
  • Height 19 feet, 1 inch
  • Empty Weight 36,135 pounds
  • Max Weight 72,000 pounds
  • Power Plants 4x 1,200 hp Wright R-1820-97 Engines
  • Armament Armament
  • Crew 10
  • Max Speed 250 mph
  • Service Ceiling 35,000 feet
  • Range 2,400 miles
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In 2015, the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in Oregon sold their B-17G Flying Fortress to help the Museum during a restructuring and reorganization. The Collings Foundation acquired this aircraft through the generous support of donors. At that time, a crew of mechanics and pilots were sent to the Museum to prepare the aircraft for a ferry flight from Oregon to Florida. After several weeks of preparation, the Evergreen B-17 made a flawless flight across the country to American Aero Services in New Smryna Beach, Florida. A thorough restoration has been underway to restore the aircraft back to its original WWII B-17G model configuration.

The new B-17G will replace “Nine O Nine” that was lost in an accident. While similar to the beloved “Nine O Nine” in form and function, this B-17 (“639”) has a fascinating (and clandestine) history.

When the war ended, many new B-17Gs were being flown directly to long term storage, sold, or even scrapped. The postwar military found varied uses for B-17Gs. For example, our B-17 “Nine 0 Nine” had been re-designated as a TB-17H or “Training Bomber” before becoming an SB-17G sea rescue aircraft with a Higgins lifeboat attached to the underside. Later, it became an A-bomb target and finally a civilian owned fire bomber. The B-17G from Evergreen Museum has a story that is even more complicated. While the US Air Force was getting into pressurized bombers and jet aircraft, large numbers of flying B-17s were doing dangerous atomic research work or else being expended as targets called QB-17Gs. Their durability and utility also allowed other Air Force units to operate the B-17s in special roles. These missions included surveillance and agent insertion, as well as clandestine “eaves dropping” patrols near and over hostile territory. During the 1950’s and 1960’s penetration of the Iron Curtain was an important goal for the CIA. Flush with money and political power, the CIA found the B-17 a stalwart platform for difficult missions into Soviet airspace.

The CIA found another use for the B-17s in China. In 1951, a company called Western Enterprises Inc. of Taiwan was created to advance U.S. interests. Using crews sourced from Civil Air Transport (CAT) of Taiwan, five B-17s entered service and began training for missions over mainland China. Between 1954 and 1959, CIA Operations flew these few B-17s extensively over the Chinese mainland. Because they were not supposed to be there, CIA operatives “sanitized” the planes, preventing them from being identified as US military aircraft. Serial numbers and data plates were removed, and their USAF military records were ended with an LI code or (loss to organization outside the USAF). These B-17’s were painted flat black and identified by three digit serial numbers. They had racks installed in which a serial number could be switched by sliding in a new number plate. Our new B-17 is the sole survivor of these five special mission aircraft that fought in the Cold War. It is a veteran of an unknown number of dangerous missions over mainland China hiding from Mig 17s; a survivor of secret Cold War aerial combat! The five CAT B-17Gs were numbered “739”, “357”, “815” and “835” and “639”(Evergreen’s B-17). During these dangerous missions three were shot down by the PLAAF or PLA (People’s Liberation Army Air Force).

• “739” lost over Fujian May 26, 1954 by AAA, crew of four killed.
• “357”shot down over Jiangxi on June 23, 1956 by a PLA Mig 17, eleven killed.
• “815” shot down over Guandong May 29, 1959 by a Mig 17PF, fourteen killed.

The fourth surviving B-17 CAT “835” was given to Air America in August 1960. The fifth B-17 known as “639” was later identified as 44-85531 and ended up at Clark Field, Luzon in the Philippines. It is believed this veteran of secret Chinese over-flights was retired between 1958 and 1960.

After 15 years outside the continental US, the B-17 “639” was brought back to California. While in Burbank she was modified to carry the Fulton Skyhook (picture bottom), a system designed to recover agents and material from places that could not be reached by helicopter or STOL aircraft. Seen in action during the 1965 movie “Thunderball,” a B-17 with a similar Skyhook snatches James Bond and Domino Vitali from a raft in the closing scene (see picture on left). This modification came just three years after a real intelligence caper that truly was movie worthy: the execution of “Operation Coldfeet” during 1962. Two agents parachuted down to an unattended floating Soviet Drift Station NP8 in the Arctic Ocean. After removing research equipment, they returned to the B-17 via a Fulton pickup with secret information from the clandestine floating Soviet station.

In 1962 the plane was registered to Intermountain Aviation, another CIA front company. This B-17 was used sparingly until 1969. During that year she was converted to an air tanker, then used as a firefighter until 1985. Trying to distance itself from the company’s CIA roots, Evergreen repainted and eventually re-registered N809Z as N207EV.

Restored as a B-17G with a full set of turrets, N207EV was flown for a few years before moving to the Evergreen Museum in Oregon for display. Now transferred to the Collings Foundation, this B-17 will undergo a detailed inspection and restoration to flight-worthy status. This unique B-17 will be a fantastic addition to the National Wings of Freedom Tour, and further the outreach of the Collings Foundation.

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COVID-19 Event Cancellations & Closure

Due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak in Massachusetts, the Father's Day Open House / "Tanks, Wings, & Wheels" event in partnership with the American Heritage Museum has been CANCELLED for June 20-21, 2020. Additionally, the American Heritage Museum is CLOSED until Phase III re-openings are announced in the state. We will make announcements here and on our Facebook page when re-opening is announced.