End of long journey for Holy Grail of military aircraft
The ‘Swamp Ghost’ was pulled from a remote New Gunea marsh
in 2006 but its arrival in the U.S. was delayed until earlier this
year. (Aero Archaeology photo)
A ceremony to welcome home the World War II B-17 bomber nicknamed “Swamp Ghost” was held June 11 at Long Beach, Calif. It signaled the end of a long journey for an aircraft, widely known as the Holy Grail of military aviation, that first sat in a tangle of swamp grass, then in a tangle of international legalities as salvagers attempted recovery.
The bomber was downed by enemy fire Feb. 23, 1942 after participating in the first long-range U.S. bombing mission of World War II following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Damage from enemy gunfire and loss of fuel caused the pilot to crash-land in a New Guinea swamp, but its nine crewmen survived and spent six weeks making their way through one of the most remote locations on earth to safety.
The B-17E could not be retrieved due to its remote location and lack of governmental permission. It eventually gained the nickname “Swamp Ghost” and was slowly being dismantled by souvenir hunters.
According to the Aero Archaeology website, AeroArchaeology.com, efforts to retrieve the plane were initiated in the 1980s by David Tallichet who was a collector of World War II aircraft. Tallichet later died, but Alfred Hagen, Aero Archaeology founder and Swamp Ghost salvage team leader, continued on with the project. Hagen has helped locate seven missing aircraft and returned more than a dozen MIA airmen to the U.S.
The plane was recovered from the crash site in 2006 by Hagen’s team and moved to the capital city of Lae, New Guinea, but attempts to continue on to the U.S. were again stalled. It finally came home in January of this year.
At the June 11 event, the official welcoming committee included surviving family members of the original Swamp Ghost crew and selected individuals instrument in the aircraft’s recovery efforts.
The ceremony included a P-51 Mustang and P-40 Warhawk formation flyover above Long Beach Harbor and the presentation of colors by a U.S. Air Force Honor Guard.
AeroArchaeology.com is reporting that the Swamp Ghost, one of only four B-17E models ever recovered, may be restored, possibly to flying condition, for display at an aviation history museum in honor of America’s veterans.
For pictures and video of the recovery effort go to: www.AeroArchaeology.com.