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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 as the 38th Model D and completed during April 1941 from a production run of 42. Constructors Number 2125. On April 25, 1941 delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-17D Flying Fortress serial number 40-3097.

Assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group (19th BG). On May 13, 1941 took off from Hamilton Field on a ferry flight of B-17C and B-17D that landed at Hickam Field on May 14, 1941 in the morning.

Next, assigned to the 11th Bombardment Group (11th BG), 14th Bombardment Squadron (14th BS). This B-17 had tail number 21 with the rudder painted with red and white stripes. Nicknamed "Old Betsy" without nose art.

During September 1941, this bomber B-17 was part of the first group of 14th Bombardment Squadron (14th BS) flying across the Pacific bound for the Philippines. At the time, this was 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.

Wartime History
On December 8, 1941 took off fron Del Monte Airfield pilot unknown with co-pilot Robert S. Clinkscales on a reconnaissance mission that was likely the first American combat mission of the Pacific War.

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 evacuated from the Philippines flying from Del Monte Airfield south to Singosari Airfield on Java.

On January 3, 1942 took off from Singosari Airfield on Java piloted by Major Cecil Combs (C. O. 19th Bombardment Group (19th BG) leading seven B-17Ds including B-17D 40-3067 on a flight to Samarinda Airfield and loaded with bombs and refueled. On January 4, 1942 then took from Samarinda Airfield to bomb Japanese shipping in Davao Bay off Mindanao and returns. On January 5, 1942 flown back to Singosari Airfield.

On January 11, 1942 at 5:55am took off from Malang Airfield or Singosari Airfield on Java piloted by Major Cecil Combs armed with Dutch 600 pound bombs as one of seven B-17D Flying Fortresses on a bombing mission against the Japanese landing force off Tarakan Island. Inbound over the Java Sea at 9,500' the formation encountered a tropical storm and became separated. Due to bad weather only three B-17Ds reached the target at 11:30am and bombed from 21,000' and all missed then were intercepted by three A6M Zeros that slightly damaged this bomber. Aboard, her gunners claimed two fighters shot down before the third broke off attacks. Returning, this B-17 landed at Soerabaja Airfield on the north coast of Java.

On January 12, 1942 took off from Soerabaja Airfield and 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).

This bomber 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
This B-17 continued to be used by General Brett until December 1945 when he personally made the last flight from Mines Field (Los Angles Airport) to Kirtland Field, New Mexico. The bomber was assigned to the War Assets Administration facility at Kingman, Arizona where it would be scrapped. Instead, saved by the efforts of Col. Frank Kurtz, who flew the bomber 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 the personal pilot of General Douglas MacArthur 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
The Swoose: Odyssey of a B-17 (1993) by Herbert S. Brownstein, Smithsonian Press
Alae Supra Canalem (1997) pages 55 (photo), 56, 151-152
B-29 Hunters of the JAAF (2000) page 14
Fortress Against The Sun (2001) pages 28, 65, 99-100, 117, 132-133, 155, 157-158, 383, 386, 396, 406, 416
Every Day A Nightmare (2010) page 55 (January 11, 1942 B-17D mission)
NASM Profile B-17D "Swoose"
via WayBackMachine, removed after transfer to USAF museum
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

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Last Updated
November 9, 2019

 

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