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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.
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.
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.
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to first-line duty, instead flying navigation and escort missions for fighters and anti-submarine patrols, until withdrawn from duty in March 1942.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.
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.
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.
Eugene Eisenberg adds:
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