B-17G Flying Fortress “Yankee Lady” Joining the TBM Gathering

Yankee Air Museum's B-17G "Yankee Lady" during a pass at Thunder Over Michigan 2014. (Photo by Mike Lambert)
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The TBM Avenger Reunion and Salute to Veterans is on for 2023. This great event will take place at Illinois Valley Regional Airport in Peru, Illinois on Friday, May 19th, and Saturday, May 20th, with a full air show each day.

The organizers recently announced that the Yankee Air Museum’s B-17G Flying Fortress Yankee Lady will also take part in the event again.  Rides will be available, although those details are still being worked out. Stay tuned!

The Yankee Air Museum’s magnificent Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress gliding through the skies, captured by the talented (and much-missed) Eric Dumigan some years ago. (image via Yankee Air Museum)

Flight experiences in Yankee Lady will run about 25 minutes and costs $525.00 per person. Once airborne, passengers are able to move to other positions in the aircraft including the nose, flight deck, bomb bay, radio room, and waist gunnery section. Why not celebrate flight with this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

As reported on the Yankee Air Museum’s website, Yankee Lady is a Boeing B-17G-110-VE which served in the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) as 44-85829. Lockheed’s Vega Division built the aircraft at their factory in Burbank, California, delivering it to the USAAF on July 16th, 1945. Being a late “G” model, the aircraft arrived in a natural metal finish. It later made its way to Dallas, Texas for modifications, but did not see combat in WWII. In September, 1945, the military placed it in storage at South Plains Field in Texas along with numerous other surplus B-17s.

In 1946, the bomber was one of sixteen Flying Fortresses which the government transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard, where the aircraft received a new designation as a PB-1G. “P” signified Patrol, “B” denoted a design by Boeing, “-1” being the manufacturer’s  first model type, and the “G” stood for Coast Guard. The modifications into the aircraft’s new role saw all of its armament removed and the installation of a radar antenna within a fairing where the chin turret once sat. PB-1Gs took part in air-sea rescue missions and iceberg patrols out of Argentia, Newfoundland, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and the West Coast. Once its modifications were complete, the aircraft became PB-1G BuNo.77255. At one time, the aircraft carried a 27-foot, 3,300-pound air-droppable, wooden lifeboat under the fuselage for rescuing people stranded at sea. The aircraft retired from the Coast Guard in 1958.

On May 11, 1959, Ace Smelting bought the airplane for $5,997.93, placing it on the civil register as N3193G. In 1966, Aircraft Specialties of Mesa, Arizona purchased the aircraft. They used numerous B-17s as air tankers to fight forest fires and apply pesticides to crops and trees. During 1969, Yankee Lady was one of five B-17s which flew to Hawaii to take part in filming the movie Tora, Tora, Tora.

In 1985, Globe Air (the successor company to Aircraft Specialties) auctioned off several aircraft including the B-17 which would become Yankee Lady. The Yankee Air Museum purchased the aircraft for $250,000 in June 1986, flying the B-17G to Michigan from Arizona on July 2nd, 1986, where it then remained grounded for the following nine years.

Yankee Lady sitting on a decidedly damp ramp before the crowds arrive on a Sunday morning. (photo by A.Kevin Grantham)

The Rebuild History

A comprehensive inspection and repair/rebuild program began quickly after the B-17G arrived at the Museum. The primary goal was to restore the aircraft back to safe flying condition while also refashioning her appearance to more closely resemble her original wartime look. The initial inspection determined that the turrets and guns were (obviously) missing, while the previous owner had also lowered the floors and removed fuselage bulkheads to accommodate their needs. All of these details needed addressing.

The restoration included removing and replacing tail surfaces to address corrosion, recovering all control surfaces with modern fabric, and removing the cargo door and installing the left waist gunner window in its proper place. The crew raised the radio room floor to its original position while also installing period-authentic radios and the radio operator’s table.

The restoration team removed the two 1,000 gallon retardant tanks from the fuselage and then installed operational bomb bay doors. They also removed the roof above the bomb bay to repair the structure and then replaced the missing bomb racks (building them from scratch).

The outer wing panels were removed to replace the corroded aileron attachment channels. The long-range Tokyo auxiliary fuel tanks were removed. Four engines were dismounted and the two outboards were overhauled.  All of the hoses were replaced and the electrical wiring was updated.

The purposeful forward half of B-17G ‘Yankee Lady’. You could be looking out from these windows! (image via Yankee Air Museum)

A Sperry ball turret and a Bendix chin turret were acquired, renovated, and installed in the aircraft. A top turret dome and cheek guns were fitted in the nose compartment. A replacement Cheyenne tail turret was obtained and restored to its World War II configuration.

The Museum painted the aircraft in the markings of a B-17G assigned to the 8th Air Force, 381st Bomb Group flying out of Ridgewell, England. This color scheme is a memorial to the late Joseph Slavik who flew thirty-five missions as a B-17 pilot with the 381st. Mr. Slavik and his brother, Stephen, made significant financial contributions to the Yankee Air Museum, enabling the the aircraft’s acquisition. While the aircraft’s name, Yankee Lady, and its nose art do not replicate any known combat veteran B-17, they represent both the era and the Museum.

Yankee Lady‘s restoration was almost entirely the result of dedicated volunteers. The aircraft’s first post-restoration flight took place on July 13th, 1995, and Yankee Lady has been flying ever since. To book a ride in this historic aircraft, please click HERE.

This year’s TBM Avenger Reunion and Salute to Veterans is bound to be a great experience for all who attend… one of the best little air shows of the season, so be sure to make plans to attend!

For more information about the event, visit www.tbmreunion.org

The team which make it happen. (photo by Greg Morehead, courtesy of Warbird Digest magazine)

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