By Pierre Kosmidis
Photos by Greg Stathatos
During WWII the B-17s flew over 290,000 missions and dropped more the 640,000 tons of bombs. The B-17 is the only aircraft to have flown in every theater of the war, from Pearl Harbor to the Aleutian Islands, South Pacific, Africa, Europe and the Mediterranean.
Over 4,735 B-17s were lost, taking down with them over 45,000 airmen, killed or wounded.
Greg Stathatos from USA is running the “B-17 Rescue” project, aiming at preserving the memories of the thousands of airmen who gave their lives for freedom, of the bombers that are considered to be among the most recognisable aircraft ever built and is spearheading the full restoration of B-17G 44-6393 “Starduster” back to the aluminum finish it wore when it first rolled out of the factory in 1944.
We are currently working on the restoration of the “Starduster”. Our intent is to show the aircraft as it appeared immediately after it arrived in Italy and just after it was selected as General Eaker’s command aircraft, before major modifications took place. She will keep her name and nose art.”
Greg Stathatos with Earl Williams who flew into Pearl Harbor with B-17C 40-2074 on “the day which will live in infamy”, December 7th 1941.
“The souls of the airmen are with which ever plane they flew. I personally have relics of 105 B-17’s and the names of the men who were on that faithful mission.”
See below the paint removal process on B-17G 44-6393 “Starduster” at March Field Air Museum, Riverside, CA, USA:
“I have a crew door handle from a crash where 14 Airmen died when a P-39 clipped the wing in a training accident”, Greg Stathatos says, adding:
“That handle is being cleaned and will replace the broken one on Starduster with the names of the 14 airmen pasted on the inside cover as a tribute.”
Manufactured in Long Beach, California the B-17G serial number 44-6393 was accepted into USAAF service in July of 1944.
The aircraft was initially assigned to the 15th Air Force, arriving in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations in August of that year.
Documented primary source information indicates 44-6393 was acquired as a command transport for the Commander of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, Air Force legend General Ira Eaker, as a replacement for B-17E “Yardbird” his prior command aircraft.
At the time of the transfer many of the defensive armaments were temporarily removed (including the turrets) and the aircraft received the name “Starduster” a designator it kept as General Eaker’s personal transport for the rest of the war.
During its service, “Starduster” flew the General from Italy and North Africa to conferences and planning meetings in England, the Soviet Union and the continental United States.
After General Eaker’s retirement in 1947, “Starduster” was assigned as a VIP transport to various U.S. bases in the Far East and Canada.
Serving until 1956, long after most B-17s had left the USAF inventory; 44-6393 was transferred to storage in Arizona and dropped from the USAF active inventory.”
Retired to Davis-Monthan, she was acquired in June 1956 by the Bolivian government and converted into freighter with the designation CB-17G. She flew with Lloyd Aero Boliviano as CP-627 until a crash in August 1968.
Rebuilt, she then flew as CP-891 until retirement in about 1980. She was then flown to March AFB and returned to original B-17G condition.
She remains on display at the March Field Air Museum, Riverside, CA, USA.