Over the years our pal Ryan Brutt has discovered some amazing muscle car barn finds from original Hemi cars to Boss 429s and more. But finding a World War II B-17 bomber sitting in a barn in Illinois is crazy. But leave it to the “Auto Archaeologist” to find the cool stuff, be it planes, trains, or muscle cars.
The B-17 Bomber was almost eliminated after the war
First, you must understand that there are very few B-17 Superfortress bombers left in the world. These were the planes that carried out the bomb raids throughout Europe and the Pacific theater. But after the war, what planes hadn’t been shot down were mostly scrapped out. After all, what private company or individual needs a bomber?
That was the fate of this B-17E, with a colorful history as the “Desert Rat.” Originally built in 1941, it ended up in a farmer’s field in Maine, where it languished for decades. It had been cut into seven pieces to prepare it to be scrapped.
In 1968 its engines, propellers, and landing gear were all removed from the fuselage. The current owner purchased its remains in 1985 for $7,250. He had them shipped to Illinois, and was also able to track down the removed pieces to make it complete.
The current bomber owner has been restoring the B-17 since 1995
But it was in poor condition. Since 1995 the owner has been painstakingly rebuilding and remaking the plane. As you can see in Ryan’s video, much has been done. But there is much more that needs to be completed.
What is amazing are all of the components strewn around the building. From engines to propellers, everything is there but dismantled. Reskinning the enormous fuselage and wings has been ongoing. There are even the original .50-caliber Browning machine guns that will be added to put this in true military condition.
Though slow and vulnerable due to its size and bomb payloads, the B-17 is probably the most notorious aircraft of the war effort. Hundreds of missions were flown, with many crews and planes not making it back alive. But these planes could take a beating from flak and gunfire and still be airworthy. It was amazing how crippled some of these B-17s were once they made it back to their bases.
This is the only B-17E bomber that still exists
This plane is particularly important because it is the only one left with the E-series longer fuselage. The tail is taller than other series of B-17s. Most of these taller tails were susceptible to breaking under certain conditions and were redesigned. So that alone makes this a rarity.
But the B-17 wasn’t exactly rare in the 1940s. Over 12,000 were built between 1936 and 1945. Only 45 still exist, mostly as static displays. There are only 10 that are currently airworthy. The goal for the owner of Desert Rat is to get it back to flying condition.
Desert Rat was used during the war as a cargo plane, partly due to its added length. It mostly shipped supplies to China, India, and other countries. It is expected to be completed in possibly five more years.
This is the ultimate enthusiast project. Each stage of the restoration is extremely specialized. The wings and most of the fuselage has been restored but there is a long way to go.