Urbana airport to play part in event celebrating iconic Memphis Belle

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is preparing to showcase a symbol of World War II and Urbana’s Grimes Field will play a part in the event.

The museum will host the event from May 17 to May 19 at the National Museum of US Air Force. It will feature the restoration of the B-17 Memphis Belle, museum curator Jeff Duford said.

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“The Memphis Belle is a famous aircraft but much more importantly, it’s one of our great American icons,” he said while speaking to the Springfield Rotary Club last week. “This airplane is a representative of all the heavy bomber crews that served and sacrificed to defeat Nazi Germany in World War II.”

Other WWII planes will land at Grimes Field in Urbana before the festival and be available for the public to see and take a flight in, Duford said. Those aircraft head down to Wright-Patterson for the Memphis Belle unveiling.

The three-day event also will have other bombers coming in and landing on the runways, World War II fighters, more than 100 re-enactors, a film festival and lectures.

“We will have artifacts from original crew members along with rare archival footage that has never been displayed publicly before,” Duford said.

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Information will be shared about what these planes could carry, who were the men who worked on them and how they compare to modern planes.

“On a big mission in Germany later in the war, there would be about 15,000 bomber crewmen in the air all at the same time,” he said.

On May 17, the exhibit will open to the public. People will be able to look at artifacts, music and people from the time period.

“William Wyler, the famous Hollywood director, who was given three awards for best director, his family generously donated his wartime uniform,” Duford said.

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The plane had suffered major damage since it flew in the war more than 70 years ago. Originally it was to be melted down, then it was donated to the city of Memphis, where is sat on display outside. It had been damaged by the weather and then vandalized, many of instruments stolen.

Its exterior has been restored, Duford said, and work continues on the interior.

The iconic aircraft was moved last week from the hangar where it was worked on into the museum.

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