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“Homesick Angel” receives tender loving care

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- A piece of American history, Offutt's static display B-17 "Homesick Angel," is undergoing structural repair and repainting through June 2009.

"We inspect the airplane every year, but this time around we found some major repair work needed to be done," said Walt Chapman, 55th Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural repair craftsman. "When we opened it up, we found that the lower surface ribs were almost gone."

"The water gets in and corrodes the metal," he said. "Over time, it deteriorates back to its natural state. If the plane isn't maintained, it basically rots."

The damage is not the result of neglect, said Bob Dean, 55th MXS fabrication section chief, but, it is an 80-year-old airplane that has been exposed to the elements for a long time.

"Offutt's B-17 has a dual life," he said. It has the life it actually had and the life of its namesake.

Offutt's "Homesick Angel" never left the United States and was named after a B-17 that crashed during WWII.

According to "B-17, Fortress of War," by Roger Freedman, Offutt's B-17 was originally assembled in 1943 and was transferred to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayers Studios for use in the film "Footprints in the Sky." However, the film was never produced and the B-17 sat in MGM Studios storage until the 1960s.

After being moved and stored at various locations in southern California until the early 1980s, the B-17 was given to the Air Force and displayed at Beale AFB, Calif.

In 1989, Offutt AFB acquired the B-17 as a gate guardian and christened it "Homesick Angel."

The location of the original "Homesick Angel" remains unknown.

The goal is to put the "Homesick Angel" back into very good display condition, said Mr. Dean. Volunteers are welcome to assist with the repainting phase of the restoration this June.

The aircraft's restoration timeline is:
November - Dec. 12 Repair/reinstall stabs and elevators
April 27- May 22 Fuselage longeron repairs
May 24 - June 5 Sanding and miscellaneous repairs
June 6-7 SAC Gate closure for static display reassembly
June 6-12 Complete repaint