Memphis’ Favorite Airplane

The Memphis Belle is one of the first U.S. bombers to complete 25 missions. The way the plane gets its name is heartwarming. The crew of the Memphis Belle leaves a mark in history. The Memphis Belle is a B-17 bomber from World War II. The story of the Memphis Belle is so unique that it will be recognized and remembered for a very long time. The story of the Memphis Belle is so special that a movie is made about it. The Memphis Belle influences Memphis because it is named after the city, is very famous in World War II, and stays in Memphis for a period of time.

The Memphis Belle is made by an historic company and commanded by a very intelligent pilot. The Boeing Airplane Company manufactures the Memphis Belle’s type of plane, which is the B-17 bomber in the 1920s. The Memphis Belle is a F Series type of B-17. It rolls off the assembly line on July 2, 1942, in Seattle, Washington (Duerksen 17). The Memphis Belle is assigned a 10 man crew with a young pilot named Robert Morgan. Robert Morgan is a tall and slim fellow, and is from Asheville, North Carolina (“Three Generations”). Before going off to war, the crew tries to make a name for the plane. Most of the crew decided on the name Memphis Belle. The name is created by Robert Morgan, the pilot, and it is named after his girlfriend, Margaret Polk, who lives in Memphis, Tennessee. Since Morgan persuades some of his crew members to vote for it, The name Memphis Belle wins the vote of the crew. They even draw a picture of the real Memphis Belle, Margaret Polk, on the side of the plane. The pilot and his crew create a name that will live in history forever.

The Memphis Belle is the most famous plane of the Second World War because of some of the stories that is told about during the its time in service. The Memphis Belle was in service from September 1942 to May 1943. The Memphis Belle mainly targets German submarine bases and factories. After some of the more hard fought battles or bombing runs the Memphis Belle returns with lots of damage done to it. It has even returned with eight hundred bullet holes and two engines out. There is also a time when it returns with a giant hole in the wing. In fact, at one point the flight engineers can not fix one engine. Even though the engine is not working, Morgan takes off with only three engines, and the engine miraculously, comes to life in the middle of the flight (Duerksen 42).The Memphis Belle is also the first United States bomber to complete 25 missions (Manley 8). Even with the life expectancy during this time for airplane crews being at ten percent, none of the Memphis Belle’s crew members died in the war. John Quinlan, the Memphis Belle’s tailgunner, says, “I was never a hero-only a survivor (Duerksen 19).” Even after the battles the Belle keeps being famous after the war.

Most of the credit goes to the fabulous pilot who keeps the crew alive from most of the danger. However, sometimes, it was just pure luck. They also use many tactics to survive against squads of German planes. One of the crew says about the pilot,” He was a good pilot. He always brought us home (Duerksen).”Even with a barrage of cannons being fired at them, the pilot still manages to dodge most of the damage. There were all of the guns covering every side of the Memphis Belle except right at the front of the plane. German pilots learn to fly right in front of the giant bomber, even though it seems very unusual. After seeing the flaw in the bombers, Boeing releases a new type of B-17 that adds two guns in the nose of the plane, but that was after the Memphis Belle is retired from service. The story of the Memphis Belle and the pilot Robert Morgan becomes so famous that 2 movies were made of it, one made after the war and one in the 90’s.

When the plane returns after a year of service to go on a war bond sales tour across the country, everyone receives a break from all of the destruction and terror that war brings to people and the pilot gets to see his far away girlfriend he has not seen in a year. The Memphis Belle first lands in Memphis on its way home to the United States. After the Belle is officially relieved from service, the crew goes on to live their lives. Robert Morgan, the pilot, has becomes the pilot of a B-29 SuperFortress bomber in the Pacific. After Japan is defeated in 1945, Morgan stated that the B-17, the type of bomber the Memphis Belle was, is still better in his opinion (Duerksen 21).Morgan also remarks about the plane, “This is a tough airplane. The best I ever flew.” Morgan continues to fly until his 80s. As his wife remembers,“Even in his 70s he could still wow the crowd.” Robert Morgan dies at the age of 85 in his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina (Healy 2004).

Sadly, the Belle is not longer used for war and is soon forgotten. After the war, the Memphis Belle is thrown in a shipyard and ready to be destroyed for parts to use for other planes or sell. Luckily the city of Memphis purchases the Memphis Belle for $350 and resurrected its fame (Manley 8). The Memphis Belle moves to many locations while in the city of Memphis. In the late 1940s and up until the 1980s, it stays in the National Guard Armory next to the Memphis airport. The city of Memphis loves the plane so much that they make a specific spot for the plane. The spot is located today on Mud Island, so this requires the plane to move away from the national guard armory to something more respectable. The paint that they use is thought to resist weather, but the weather just tears the paint off. Due to bad weather damage and thieves stealing parts of the plane, the Memphis Belle is recalled to the United States Air Force Museum, which is located in Dayton, Ohio, in 2005. Now the Memphis Belle is going under a restoration project (“Glory Restored”). This task could take 10 years to complete since they have to find so many historic parts for this historic piece in history (Manley 8).

Clearly, the Memphis Belle plays an important part in Memphis’s history. First, the Memphis Belle is the first U.S. bomber to complete 25 missions. Second, the crew of the Memphis Belle also does not suffer any casualties during the war, even though the life expectancy is very low at the time. Third, the plane is named after the city of Memphis for the pilot’s girlfriend, Margaret Polk because she lives in Memphis during the war. Fourth, the Memphis Belle is located in Memphis, Tennessee, for a period of time. Fifth, the plane is the most known bomber in the Second World War. The Memphis Belle is so important to history that many movies are made of it to tell its story, like one named Memphis Belle that is released in the 1990’s. The Memphis Belle influences Memphis because it is named after the city, is very famous in World War II, and stays in Memphis for a period of time. And even though the plane is no longer in the city of Memphis, the Memphis Belle will continue to stay in the city’s heart forever, whether it is there in the city itself or not.

by Frank Allan ’19

Works Cited

Duerksen, Menno. The Memphis Belle. Memphis: Castle, 1987. Print.

Healy, Patrick. “Col. Robert Morgan, 85, World War II Pilot of Memphis Belle.” New York Times

[New York] 17 May 2004: n. pag. Print.

Three Generations with the “Belle”. Gene Gill,2009. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

Manley, Brendan. “Air Force Museum Restoring Famed World War II B-17 Memphis Belle.” Military History 27 Feb. 2014: 8. Gale Popular Magazines. Web. 4 Mar. 2014. Price,

Debbie M. “Glory Restored.” Boys’ Life Mar. 2010: 12. Popular Magazines. Web. 4 Mar. 2014.

Simons, Graham and Friedman, Harry. Memphis Belle- Dispelling the Myths. Peterborough: GMS Enterprises, 2008.