B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Thunderbird’ – Restoration Update – June 2023

B-17G 44-85718 basically remains in storage at Madras, Oregon, while awaiting the arrival of new wing parts that will allow the airplane to be reassembled to flying condition.


As most readers will remember, Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress 44-83718 (N900RW) has been undergoing restoration within a hangar at the Erickson Aircraft Collection in Madras, Oregon since its arrival some three years ago. This aircraft, which flew for many years as Thunderbird with the Lone Star Flight Museum, now belongs to the Mid America Flight Museum. Following the latter museum’s acquisition of Thunderbird in December, 2020, they ferried it to Madras for inspection and repairs – a lengthy endeavor which remains in progress. AeroVintage’s publisher, Scott A. Thompson, recently paid a visit to Madras, and passed along the following information and images regarding the Fort’s return to flight.


B 17G 44 85718 has been dissassembled to major components.

B-17G 44-85718 has been disassembled into major components. It will be at least another year before the Fortress becomes operational again. Note the painted-over Thunderbird name and nose art. (photo by Connor Bond)by Scott A. Thompson of Aero Vintage

I had the occasion to visit the Erickson Aircraft Collection museum at Madras, Oregon, recently, and took a close look at the B-17. At this point, in June 2023, the airframe remains in disassembled storage awaiting the arrival of some new wing parts. The inner wing panels are in custom jigs with their trailing edges removed. Once the new wing parts arrive (expected later this year) the wing panels will receive some extensive rework to incorporate the new components. As part of this endeavor, the recently-issued FAA Airworthiness Directive which addresses issues with the joint between the spar chord tubes and the wing attach terminal fittings will also be satisfied. The airframe, having already undergone a thorough inspection, will then undergo reassembly for its return to flying condition. That being said, the timeline for its first post-restoration flight remains fuzzy as the latter process will require significant effort. The B-17 will most likely receive a new livery as well, although details on which aircraft the new paint scheme will represent remain closely held at present.

An excellent view of the forward wing attach fittings on the fuselage side.
An excellent view of the forward wing attach fittings on the fuselage side. The fittings match to the terminal fittings on the wings, and are held in place by tapered bolts, three below and two above.

Once the bomber is flying again, it will return to its home at the Mid America Flight Museum in Mount Pleasant, Texas. According to the museum, they presently have no intention of participating in an FAA Living History Flight Experience program, so will not be selling rides nor touring with the aircraft. It will simply operate as part of the museum’s extensive fleet of airworthy historic aircraft, making flights and participating in events of their choosing.

The outer wing panels and two propellers are seen in storage in the May 2023 view.
The outer wing panels and two propellers are seen in storage in the May 2023 view.

A short history of 44-85718: Lockheed delivered this B-17 to the U.S. Army Air Forces on May 8th, 1945. With the war in Europe over, the Fort went directly into storage, winding up in a surplus in Altus, Oklahoma. In 1947, France’s Institut Geographique National (IGN) bought the airframe, along with three other new B-17Gs. The IGN registered 44-85718 as F-BEEC on the French civil registry, one of fourteen examples the organization modified and flew as part of their world-ranging aerial survey operations over the next four decades. F-BEEC finally retired from IGN service in 1984, moving to new owners in the UK before the Lone Star Flight Museum acquired it in 1987. Over the intervening decades, the B-17 regained its military guise, but it still retains a few external vestiges of its French survey modifications – these being the windows installed in the lower nose section just aft of the plexiglass nose, and the plexiglass nose piece itself. The Mid America Flight Museum presently has no plans to return the nose section to a standard B-17G configuration, so the indicator of the aircraft’s prior use will remain intact for now. For those wishing to learn more about this fascinating aircraft, the book Final Cut: The Post-War B-17 Flying Fortress and Survivors has a lengthy chapter dedicated its history, complete with numerous images from its past.


Many thanks indeed to Scott A. Thompson (and Connor Bond) for allowing us to reproduce this article describing Thunderbird’s present condition… his book, Final Cut: The Post-War B-17 Flying Fortress and Survivors as well as other titles are the gold standard when it comes to the airframe history it describes!

Final Cut The Post War B 17 Flying Fortress and Survivors

Moreno-Aguiari

Born in Milan, Italy, Moreno moved to the U.S. in 1999 to pursue a career as a commercial pilot. His aviation passion began early, inspired by his uncle, an F-104 Starfighter Crew Chief, and his father, a military traffic controller. Childhood adventures included camping outside military bases and watching planes at Aeroporto Linate. In 1999, he relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, to obtain his commercial pilot license, a move that became permanent. With 24 years in the U.S., he now flies full-time for a Part 91 business aviation company in Atlanta. He is actively involved with the Commemorative Air Force, the D-Day Squadron, and other aviation organizations. He enjoys life with his supportive wife and three wonderful children.

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About Moreno Aguiari 3336 Articles
Born in Milan, Italy, Moreno moved to the U.S. in 1999 to pursue a career as a commercial pilot. His aviation passion began early, inspired by his uncle, an F-104 Starfighter Crew Chief, and his father, a military traffic controller. Childhood adventures included camping outside military bases and watching planes at Aeroporto Linate. In 1999, he relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, to obtain his commercial pilot license, a move that became permanent. With 24 years in the U.S., he now flies full-time for a Part 91 business aviation company in Atlanta. He is actively involved with the Commemorative Air Force, the D-Day Squadron, and other aviation organizations. He enjoys life with his supportive wife and three wonderful children.

4 Comments

  1. Please take better care of this than the owner/operators of Liberty Belle, Texas Raiders, Nine O Nine.. It’s time to consider leaving this beauties on the ground.

    • Can’t speak to the cause of the demise of Liberty Bell or Nine-O-Nine, but Texas Raiders fell victim to a mid-air collision appearing to be caused by persons on the ground.

  2. Glad Thunderbird is undergoing restoration. I flew on her in 2017 for my 16th birthday. Got to take off in the nose. Have a lot of photos and videos from that event. Saddened that Houston, after Texas Raiders, no longer has a B-17, but hey, glad that she’s being restored proper. I’ve had the pleasure to be around this airframe quite a few times and have quite a few memories, even a photo before she was painted as Thunderbird, from my Grandfather, a solid 5 years to the day before I was born!

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