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Built by Boeing at Seattle. 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. 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 Airport on Trinadad after a 13 hours and 45 minute flight. Ferried oversea via the "African Route" bound for the Netherlands East Indies (NEI). During the ferry flight, nicknamed "Topper" with nose art painted by 2nd Lt. Paul W. Eckley, Jr. showing a top hat and a tomahawk inside a circle.
On February 13, 1942 arrived at Bandoeng Airfield in west Java. Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 19th Bombardment Group (19th BG) and participated in the Java campaign. Afterwards, flown southward to Australia.
On October 9, 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. 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), 63rd Bombardment Squadron (63rd BS). As one of the older B-17E Flying Fortresses, it became known as "Old Topper", a play on the original nickname of "Topper".
On August 27, 1943, during take off from 7-Mile Drome (Jackson) near Port Moresby armed with two 1,000 pound bombs and three 500 lpoundb bombs and suffered a structural failure and crashed on take off. Aboard, the crew were uninjured in the crash.
Afterwards, this B-17 was 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 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
Thanks to Steve Birdsall and Brian O'Connor for additional information
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