The Boeing B-17 was a four-engine heavy bomber that served as a workhorse during World War II. Developed in the 1930’s for the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) in a competition for a contract to build 200 bombers, the B-17 outperformed entries from Douglas and Martin and more than met the Air Corps’ expectations.
Unfortunately the prototype crashed and Boeing lost the contract; but the Air Corps, impressed with Boeing’s design, ordered 13 more B-17’s for further evaluation. From its introduction in 1938, the B-17 Flying Fortress evolved through numerous design advances; and from July 1935 to April of 1945 Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed-Vega built 12,731 B-17s.
The bomber was dubbed the Flying Fortress because of its defensive firepower — thirteen .50 caliber machine guns and a 9,600-pound bomb load.
On Tuesday, May 13, Carol Buckwalter will be at the Big Walnut Area Historical Society meeting with a presentation about the restoration of a World War II B-17 Bomber — the Champaign Lady.
The U.S. Army Air Corps touted the B-17 as a strategic weapon. The aircraft was primarily employed in the daylight precision bombing campaign of World War II against German industrial and military targets. It was a potent, high-flying, long-range bomber, able to defend itself and return home despite extensive battle damage; and widely circulated stories and photos of battered B-17s helped it achieve huge public recognition.
Champaign Lady is being built in Urbana, Ohio, at the Champaign Aviation Museum located at Grimes field. The restoration was started by the Shiffer Family in 2005 and is supported by volunteers, private donations and gifts to the museum.
She is being built using parts from various airframes that have seen a wide range of service, including an air tanker, movie prop, search and rescue, and nuclear testing. Volunteers fabricate missing pieces according to the specifications from the original drawings. When it is finished, the Champaign Lady will be 80 percent new.
Carol and her husband Bob work every Saturday on the project.
“We have learned so much in the past eight years and continue to feel blessed to be even a small part of bringing this beautiful plane back to life,” Buckwalter said. “We think of our volunteering as a one-day vacation every week; we are doing what we enjoy with people we love.”
In July and August of 2010 the Buckwalters jumped at the chance to be part of the recovery team of the tail section of a B-17 that had crashed in the mountains of Talkeetna, Alaska, 60-some years earlier as it had some important parts that we needed for the Champaign Lady.
What looked like bent and twisted metal to many was a treasure to those who were part of the recovery team and many of the pieces brought back have already been refurbished and ready to go on the Lady.
“One of the most important things we have the pleasure of doing is spending time with World War II veterans who are still able to come in and see her,” Buckwalter said. “All work stops when this happens so that we can enjoy our time with them and hear the stories they have to tell.
“The Champaign Lady is still 8 to 10 years from completion,” she added. “Hopefully one day we will have the honor of flying on her.”
Carol Buckwalter will be at the Big Walnut Area Historical Society at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 13. The session is open to the public.
The Myers Inn Museum is located at 45 South Columbus Street facing Sunbury Village Square. The museum is open from 12 noon to 3 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. Admission is by donation.
Champaign Lady is being built in Urbana, Ohio, at the Champaign Aviation Museum located at Grimes Field. To learn more about Champaign Lady go to < champaignaviationmuseum.com >.