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Built by Boeing at Seattle. Constructors Number 2292. On December 26, 1941 delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-17E Flying Fortress Serial Number 41-2481 and that same day flown from Boeing Field to McClellan Airfield.
Assigned to the 7th Bombardment Group (7th BG). Next, flown by pilot 1st Lt. James O. Cobb and a flight engineer to Langley Field then southward to MacDill Field and readied for a ferry flight overseas.
On January 11, 1942 at 3:00am took off from MacDill Field piloted by 1st Lt. James O. Cobb on a ferry flight via the "Africa Route" bound for the Netherlands East Indies (NEI). The ferry flight crew included pilot 1st Lt. James O. Cobb, co-pilot 2nd Lt Paul W. Eckley, Jr., navigator 2nd Lt Johnnie Riola, bombardier Sgt L. W. Hay, engineer Cpl E. W. Harbaugh, assistant engineer Pvt B. F. Narel, radio operator Pfc J.E. Dambacher, assistant radio operator Pvt C.B. Morris and medic Pfc L.H. Hillman.
The B-17 overflew Miami before landing at Piarco Airfield in Trinadad after a 13 hours and 45 minute flight. Ferried oversea via the "African Route" via Brazil, Sierra Leon, Gold Coast (Ghana), Nigeria where the right tire blew out and the bomber had to wait for a replacement.
While waiting, nicknamed "Topper" with nose art painted by 2nd Lt. Paul W. Eckley, Jr. showing a top hat and a tomahawk inside a circle. The top had represented they were the best and tomahawk meant they could take care of any threat. The nickname "Topper" was also the name of a series of popular comedy films.
Next, the bomber flew to Sudan, Yemen, India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) before arriving in the Netherlands East Indies (NEI). On February 13, 1942 arrived at Bandoeng Airfield in west Java. This B-17 participated in the Java campaign until the end of the month when evacuated to Australia.
In March 1942 assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group (19th BG), 30th Bombardment Squadrion (30th BS). The lower Bendix turret was removed as ineffective and to save weight and instead installed a pair of .50 caliber machine guns in a scarff ring at the position. During May 1942, the U.S. Star red circle insignia was overpainted.
On October 8, 1942 took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by Major Jack Dougherty with co-pilot Major Bennie Shriever as one of three B-17s on a flare mission over Rabaul. On October 9, 1942 in the early morning over the target, one engine failed forcing this bomber to salvo their bombs and abort the mission but returned safely.
During November 1942 assigned to the 43rd Bombardment Group (43rd BG), 65th Bombardment Squadron (65th BS). This bomber retained the nickname "Topper".
During February 1943 assigned to the 403rd Bombardment Squadron (403rd BS).
On February 21, 1943 took off piloted by 1st Lt. David A. Adams with a crew from the 403rd BS plus five B-17s from 63rd BS on a night bombing mission against Japanese shipping in Simpson Harbor off Rabaul. Two B-17s would perform skip bombing attacks while the others would conduct high altitude bombing runs. On February 22, 1943 in the early morning hours the formation arrived over the target area but failed to see any ships. Instead, they bombed ground targets including Lakunai Airfield. Returning one B-17 made two bomb runs on a small ship near Giretar Point. Another B-17 bombed Gasmata Airfield.
On March 22, 1943 took off on a bombing mission against Rabaul.
During May 1943 returned to the 65th Bombardment Squadron (65th BS). Finally, in July 1943 assigned to the 63rd Bombardment Squadron (63rd BS). As one of the older B-17E Flying Fortresses in service, it became known to crews as "Old Topper", a play on the original nickname of "Topper". But, "Old Topper" was never painted on the bomber.
On August 15, 1943 took off piloted by O'Conner on a bombing mission against Salamaua.
On August 27, 1943, during take off from 7 Mile Drome (Jackson) near Port Moresby piloted by 1st Lt. Clarence E. O'Conner armed with two 1,000 pound bombs and three 500 pound bombs. During take off, the bomber had reached a speed of roughly 80 mph when the right tire blew out and caused the plane to skid across the runway toward a B-24 Liberator and when the right landing gear wheel hub broke off and the bomber spun in a half circle on the gear strut before it stopped. Aboard, none of the crew were injured.
Afterwards, this B-17 towed off the runway and stripped for usable parts by the 481st Service Squadron. Officially written off on October 30, 1943.
Ultimate fate unknown, likely scrapped or otherwise disappeared.
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-17E 41-2481
"2481 delivered Sacramento Dec 26, 1941. Assigned to 19th BG, 30th BS Java Feb 14, 1942. Transferred to 7th BG, then to 43rd BG, 63rd BS, then to 481 Service Squadron. (43rd BG, 63rd BS, *Old Topper*) crashed on takeoff at Jackson Field, Port Moresby Aug 28, 1943. W/o Oct 30, 1943"
Lt. Clarence E. O'Connor Flight Log Excerpts via Brian O'Connor August 27, 1943 "Tire blew out with 95mph. Ground looped. Washed out the ship. Load 2 x 1,000 lbs and 3 x 500 lb bombs"
43rd Bomb Group, 63rd Bomb Squadron History, frame 272
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2481
Fortress Against The Sun (2001) pages 133, 377 (date of accident listed as August 8, 1943 with 65th BS) 386, 414
Flightpath August-October 2012 "Rabaul October" by Steve Birdsall page 56
Ken's Men Against The Empire Volume 1 (2015) pages 130 (photo), 130-131 (February 22, 1943) 216 (Profile 8), 222 (Profile 8 detail), 265 (photos), 266 (August 27, 1943), 326 (63rd BS, 41-2481), 328 (65th BS, 41-2481), 331 (403rd BS, 41-2481), 357 (Profile 8 description), 405 (index Topper)
Thanks to Steve Birdsall and Brian O'Connor for additional information
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