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AirFest 2004 will be a homecoming for Memphis Belle pilot

by Lt Col Jim Dice
6th Operations Support Squadron commander

On the first weekend of April 2004 MacDill will host its first AirFest since before the events of September 11, 2001. In preparation for this much anticipated event, we've assembled a lineup of flying activities second to none that will showcase military aviation, both past and present. Part of that lineup will be the visit to MacDill of the B-17 Memphis Belle used in the 1990 Warner Brothers movie. Although the real Memphis Belle is on permanent display in Memphis, Tennessee, the man who actually flew the aircraft will be returning to MacDill after an absence of 62 years!

Col. Robert Morgan (ret.), who led the crew of the Memphis Belle in 25 combat missions over France, Belgium, and Germany in World War II, received his initial B-17 training right here at MacDill while assigned to the 29th and 91st Bomb Groups. "MacDill Air Force Base is one of my fondest memories of World War II," Colonel Morgan said. "I am so excited to be invited to be part of this air show and I can't wait to see if my old hangar and other buildings are still there. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to meet the public - civilian and military - especially young people and help educate them about the history of World War II."

Colonel Morgan will display a B-17 and B-29 exhibit all day Saturday and Sunday. Autographed memorabilia will be available alongside the B-17 Memphis Belle used to film the Hollywood movie of the same name. Colonel Morgan and the Memphis Belle will be on display in the area of the B1-B and B-52 bombers.

Colonel Morgan initially reported to MacDill Dec. 26, 1941, to serve as a check pilot on A-29s to patrol the Gulf of Mexico looking for enemy submarines. In 1942 Colonel Morgan received his initial B-17 training in the Florida skies and after advanced training at Walla Walla, Washington he flew the Memphis Belle to Bassingbourn, England just north of London. During the first three months at Bassingbourn, the 91st Bomb Group lost 80 percent of its aircraft. In an effort to raise morale, the leaders set the completion of 25 missions as the benchmark for aircrews to return home.

The crew of the Memphis Belle became the first B-17 aircrew in history to complete the milestone 25 missions on May 17, 1943, and it did it without ever losing a crew member.

While the Memphis Belle dropped more than 60 tons of bombs and shot down eight enemy fighters.

Following a 30-city Public Relations/War Bond tour in the United States, Colonel Morgan eventually became a B-29 squadron commander in Saipan. He earned his second "first" in WWII when he led the first B-29 bombing raid over Tokyo in the B-29 named Dauntless Dotty. Upon completion of 25 more missions over Japan he was ordered home in April of 1945.

He stayed in the Air Force Reserve and retired in 1965. He and his wife Linda live in Asheville, NC where Morgan was born. On April 3, Colonel Robert Morgan returns to where he first flew the B-17. Don't miss this opportunity to meet an aviation legend and American Hero!




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