Aircraft Restoration Project Helped Along By Donations From Miller Electric Mfg. Co.
During World War II, the Memphis Belle, a B-17 Flying Fortress, flew 25 successful combat missions over Europe without suffering any significant damage despite heavy and unrelenting enemy fire. Unfortunately, the legendary bomber hasn't fared quite as well during its retirement years in Memphis, Tenn.
However, that's about to change thanks to a major restoration effort spearheaded by the Memphis Belle Memorial Association, with an assist from Miller Electric Mfg. Co. Miller has donated a Millermatic® 251 all-in-one MIG welding system and a Spectrum® 375 CutMateTM air plasma arc cutting machine toward the goal of returning "Belle" to her former glory.
J. T. Loy, President of the Memphis Belle Memorial Association, Inc. and Chief of Restoration, uses a Millermatic 251 all-in-one MIG welder to build a wing support stand.
The Memphis Belle was one of more than 12,000 B-17 Flying Fortresses that entered service in 1939, and ended up being one of the best known by the time the long-range bomber was rotated back home in 1943 after flying its scheduled 25 bombing missions in the European theater. Unlike several of its counterparts, the Memphis Belle was never shot down and never lost a single crew member. Belle's 26th mission was to fly home to a hero's welcome and take part in a promotional U.S. savings bond tour.
Since its last flight on July 17, 1946, the Memphis Belle - named for the sweetheart of the pilot, Col. Robert Morgan - has served as a local Memphis memorial to America's military heroes of WWII. The plane underwent its first renovation in 1987, when the citizens of Memphis also built the Memphis Belle Pavilion on the river bluffs in downtown Memphis. But the ravages of time and the elements have taken their toll on Belle, creating the need to mobilize another volunteer effort and private donations to launch a major overhaul and build a permanent museum so that Belle never has to sit outside again.
The Memphis Belle Memorial Association (www.memphisbelle.com) logo incorporates the original Belle art from the plane's side (see "Belle" photo). Done as a patriotic tribute, 100 percent of donations go to restoration.
Belle currently is housed at the Jim Webb restoration center near the Millington Municipal Airport in suburban Memphis, where volunteer workers have painstakingly dismantled the plane to begin the laborious task of refurbishing the worn parts. One of the volunteers is Randy Smith, a senior aircraft mechanic at Federal Express.
"We've completely disassembled the plane and we're going through it piece by piece to get rid of the corrosion," Smith says. "Miller Electric's donation of the welder and plasma cutter will allow us to fabricate metal stands and jigs to hold all the parts during the restoration work. Companies such as Miller Electric have really bent over backwards to help us with this project."
A donated Millermatic 251 all-in-one MIG welder and Spectrum 375 plasma cutter are helping the Memphis Belle Memorial Association restore "the Belle" to a museum-quality plane.
The Millermatic 251 also may see duty during the actual reassembly of the Memphis Belle. Meanwhile,the Spectrum 375 already has been a big hit with the volunteers. "One of the guys who's helping out here said, 'We need a couple of these at work'," Smith notes.
"Once we get really rolling and have our shop all set up, we figure it will take about three years to finish the renovation," Smith says. "At any one time we have anywhere from 35 to 50 volunteers who are helping out. We even have families that take vacation time to come here and work on the plane."
Why take on such a time-consuming and expensive project? "I was never in the military and so this is my way - and our way - of giving something back to the guys who went over there and fought for us and, in some cases, who never came back," Smith says. "It's our way of saluting those veterans."
For more information on this historic plane, visit www.memphisbelle.com. For more information on Miller Electric, visit www.MillerWelds.com or call 1-800-4-A-MILLER (800-426-4553).
With headquarters in Appleton, Wis., Miller is a leading worldwide manufacturer of Miller and Hobart brand arc welding equipment and related systems for metalworking, construction, maintenance and other applications. Miller Electric Mfg. Co. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Illinois Tool Works Inc. (ITW), Glenview, Ill. ITW is a diversified multinational manufacturer of highly engineered components, assemblies and systems.