“Sally B“ – A Flying Monument

2018-07-02 G-BEDF Boeing B17 Sally B

The prototype of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress took off for the first time in 1935, deliveries to the US Air Force (at that time called US Army Air Corps) began in October 1939. Till the end of production 1945 overall 12.731 B-17 have been built in different versions, marking as well the start of mass production of big aircraft for Boeing. In peak times sixteen aircraft per day left the production facilities in Seattle, Long Beach and Burbank. The manufacture of the B-17 led Boeing from the B-17 via the B-29, B-52, B707 and B747 to the aircraft from today – and made Boeing one of the two big players in aircraft production in the world.

Today 44 B-17s still exist worldwide, 14 of those are in flyable condition – and nearly all of them have their home base in the United States. The sole exception is “Sally B”, a Boeing B-17G, which calls Duxford in United Kingdom its home.

The airframe with serial 44-85785 was delivered to the Air Force (called US Army Air Forces then) on June 19th 1945 and thus too late to participate actively in the Second World War. In operation until 1954 after conversion as a crew trainer, the aircraft was then sold to France. In the following 30 years until 1975 the plane was used as cartographic photo platform with the registration F-BGSR by the Institut Geographique National.

The transfer to Duxford occurred in 1975, when the English Business Men and pilot Ted White acquired the flyable classic aircraft and registered it as G-BDEF. The origin of the name “Sally B”, still used today, can trace its legacy to Elly Sallingboe, long term girlfriend of Ted White. Until today she is the official owner of “Sally B”. Since 1975 the B-17 was presented in flight on various airshows in England and acts as a flying memorial for 79,000 American airmen who lost their lives in operation over Europe in the Second World War.

In 1982 Ted White perished in an accident during an Air Rally in Malta with a T-6 Texan. Despite the death of Ted, Elly Sallingboe and the whole “Sally B” Team decided to continue the flying operation of the aircraft. They wanted to continue with Ted White’s vision of operating “Sally B” as a flying memorial should continue and keep her as a reminder as well future generations. To memorize the deceased owner, the cowling of the inner right engine was painted in the colours of Ted White’s T-6 Texan engine cowling. Although continued, the operations since then are plagued by reoccurring financial problems.

A boost for the project occurred in 1989, as “Sally B“ took center stage in the Hollywood classic move ”Memphis Belle“. Overall five B-17 have been used for the recordings of the movie. “Sally B” had a special role as she was the only aircraft that could emit smoke in flight – thereby being the only one allowing recordings of a (of course only simulated) damaged B-17 on return to its basis to England after an operation over Germany.

With the money earned during the recording of the film “Sally B” could be kept airborne until 1998 – and she appeared as well at various airshows in England. The mechanic team around Peter Brown managed to keep the aircraft in flying conditions, but finally a damaged engine grounded the aircraft for nine months in Guernsey. It was a nearly impossible logistic task to transfer the aircraft in the safe environment of a hangar and so “Sally B” spend the winter on the island. Once this period could be overcome with the help of sponsors and volunteers a new engine could be installed and the flight to the home base in Duxford was completed in April 1999.

Back at home the next shock was right at the door step – due to financial problems the flying operations had to be cancelled for the first time since the aircraft was taken over 25 years before. With the founding of the B-17 Charitable Trust in March 2000 a new concept was created enabling sponsors to support the operation of “Sally B”. Until today the decision has proven its value and “Sally B” excites everybody, young and old, on 20 to 25 airshows across England every year.

The photos shown in this article could be made during a special flight in July 2018 in cooperation with the Aviation Photocrew. Aim of this flight was to get spectacular Air-to-Air photos of the B-17 above important landmarks of the Second World War.

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