WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- It's one of the most famous airplanes in America's military history, a B-17 that became part of lore by being the first heavy bomber to complete 25 missions in Europe during World War II, and return home.
When the strategic bombing campaign against the Germans began in November 1942, it wasn't known if it would be successful. Many didn't make it through 25 missions -- the threshold for being able to go home -- but the Memphis Belle succeeded and instantly became a major public relations coup for the American military.
After returning to the United States, the Memphis Belle was sent on a national war bond tour, making dozens of stops around the country and driving up spirits everywhere it went.
After the war, the plane was relegated to a boneyard in Oklahoma before being rescued by the Mayor of Memphis. Then, the Air Force got a hold of the plane, and in 2005 brought it to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton and began a long-term restoration project, the goal of which is to return the plane to what it looked like when it was flying bombing missions in Europe.
Now, the plane is being meticulously worked on by the experts in the museum's restoration shop, and CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman stopped by to check out the work during Road Trip 2013. It is expected that sometime late next year or in early 2015, the plane will be moved inside the museum itself, where the general public will be able to see the final restoration process.
After arriving at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, home of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force -- and its restoration program -- the Memphis Belle is carefully unloaded in the hangar where the restoration work is done.
This is a Norden bombsight, mounted in the nose of the Memphis Belle.
According to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, "The Norden bombsight functioned as a part of a whole system. As the bomber approached its target, the bombardier entered data about wind direction, airspeed and altitude into the bombsight's analog computer, which calculated wind drift and provided the correct aim point. An internal gyroscope provided the stability necessary for using the telescopic sight at high altitudes. When connected to the Sperry C-1 Autopilot, the Norden bombsight provided unprecedented accuracy."
Although not original to the plane, this Norden bombsight is representative of what the B-17 flew with in World War II.
In this 1943 Air Force photograph, the crew of the Memphis Belle returned to England after completing the plane's 25th mission -- the accomplishment that gained it lasting fame in the annals of U.S. military aircraft.
In its days barnstorming around the U.S. on a war bond tour, the nose art of the Memphis Belle added the plane's navigators name, as well as eight swastikas representing the Nazi planes it was said to have shot down. But those elements -- unlike the single swastika under the window -- were added after the bomber left Europe.
As part of the restoration, the nose art will be returned to its state when it was flying bombing missions.
In this Air Force photo, the crew of the Memphis Belle pose alongside their famous plane. Though the photo shows nose art featuring a series of swastikas, the National Museum of the Air Force's restoration supervisor, Greg Hessler, said that that art was added only once the plane was in the U.S. and was on its war bond tour.
Everywhere the Memphis Belle went on its war bond tour, people would scratch their names into the rear of its fuselage. Today, many of those etched names are still visible, but when the restoration is complete, and the plane is painted as it was when it was still flying bombing missions, the names will be painted over.
Though no one will ever see this heat exchanger, because it will be closed up inside the Memphis Belle's wing, the restoration crews are bringing the plane's systems back to their original condition -- minus its ability to fly.