MacArthur's Airmen - “The Swoose”


MacArthur's Airmen - “The Swoose” - Only one aircraft from the pre-World War II Philippine Air Force (later Fifth Air Force) is known to exist today: the B-17D “The Swoose.” - ©Smithosian InstitutionOnly one aircraft from the pre-World War II Philippine Air Force (later Fifth Air Force) is known to exist today: the B-17D “The Swoose.” It is also the oldest surviving B-17, and was given to the National Museum of the Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH, by the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum in 2007.

MacArthur's Airmen - “The Swoose” - B-17D #40-3097 was delivered by Boeing to the U.S. Army Air Corps in late April 1941 and was assigned to the 11th Bomb Group at Hickam Field, HI, the following month - ©Smithosian InstitutionB-17D #40-3097 was delivered by Boeing to the U.S. Army Air Corps in late April 1941 and was assigned to the 11th Bomb Group at Hickam Field, HI, the following month. As part of a reinforcement of the Philippines in late 1941, #40-3097 was flown from Hawaii to Clark Field in the Philippines in September. By early December there were seventeen B-17 aircraft in the Philippines.

The aircraft, at that time known as “Ole Betsy,” was on the ground at Clark on December 8 when Japanese attacks on military bases throughout the Philippines crippled the Army Air Force units there. It survived the Japanese attack, one of only 17 B-17s to do so, and was one of a mere handful of aircraft which participated in counter-attacks against the Japanese for the next two months. It flew what would be its last combat mission on January 11, 1942, over Borneo.

As spare parts were all but non-existent, #40-3097 was kept aloft, as were the other aircraft, by cannibalizing other planes. In late January 1942, the aircraft underwent repairs in Australia during which the tail of another B-17, #40-3091, was spliced onto it. Following the repairs, the commander of 19th Bomb Group aptly dubbed the #40-3097 “The Swoose” – half swan, half goose – a name which stuck. The Swoose would not fly another bombing mission, but did fly several more submarine patrol missions before being withdrawn from service in March.

Shortly thereafter the Swoose was selected to be the personal transport aircraft for Lieutenant General George Brett, commander of the Allied air units in Australia. One of the aircraft’s most noted passengers during this time was Navy Lieutenant Commander Lyndon B. Johnson. When Gen. Brett was reassigned to the Caribbean in the summer of 1942, the Swoose ferried the General back to the United States, then embarked on a War Bond tour, before returning to service once again as Brett’s personal aircraft until early 1944. In February of that year inspection of the plane found it to be in such poor condition as to warrant being scrapped. However, at the insistence of Brett’s pilot, the aircraft was rebuilt and continued in use as Brett’s transport until December 1945. Its last operational flight was piloted by Gen. Brett himself.

MacArthur's Airmen - “The Swoose” - Restoration is expected to take several years - ©Smithosian InstitutionFollowing the war, the former “Swoose” barely escaped being scrapped when its former pilot convinced the City of Los Angeles to purchase the bomber for use as a war memorial. By January 1949, nothing had been done with the aircraft so the City donated it to the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum. Colonel Frank Kurtz, the pilot who had saved the aircraft several years earlier, piloted it to a storage facility in Illinois, ultimately being flown several years later to Andrews Air Force Base, MD, arriving there with only three of its four engines operational. Despite being preserved, the aircraft spent the next several decades in out-door storage where it suffered both by weather and vandals. It was ultimately moved indoors, but was never restored by the Smithsonian, which in late 2007 approved transferring the aircraft to the United States Air Force, which moved it to its Dayton, OH, museum facility in July 2008. Restoration is expected to take several years.

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