CAF Gulf Coast Wing

The History of B-17G Texas Raiders

© Col. Kevin “K5” Michels           -          Updated on June 09, 2021

Special thanks to: Everett Gibson, LC “Buddy” Cooksey, Scott A. Thompson, Ken English, Brad Pilgrim, Walt Thompson, Pat Elliott, Dan Ragan, Chuck Conway, Curt Rowe, Barney Oldfield, Scott A. Thompson, and many others.

As of 2021, there are just four B-17’s still actively flying in the world. Sally B in the UK, Yankee Lady, Texas Raiders, and Sentimental Journey in the US. B-17G Texas Raiders (TR) is one of the most recognized and famous of the Flying Fortresses currently on the airshow circuit. The aircraft has been restored to wartime configuration inside and out by an entirely volunteer group of dedicated supporters. The aircraft has one of the most unusual histories of any existing Flying Fortresses flying today and is one of the most active and visible.

Of all the B-17’s ever built, Texas Raiders is credited with the 5th most military time, is the 3rd youngest still in existence, and has served as a Living History museum longer than any other B-17 in the world. As of 2021, Texas Raiders has flown in support of the CAF’s Mission of Honor, Inspiration, and Education for 54 of her 76 years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Texas Raiders notable dates

Navy Career

Flying Fortresses are of course a Boeing design, but during WWII they were also built by Vega and Douglas to increase production. The B-17 we know today as Texas Raiders began its long and distinguished career when as the 14th to last B-17 to begin production at the Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach, CA. She was part of block B-17G-95-DL and assigned Douglas Construction Number (C/N) 32513 and an Army Air Force Serial # 44-83872. This aircraft was accepted by the US Army on July 12, 1945.

At the time that TR was built, the European war had already ended and the Pacific war was winding down. Like the B-24, B-17’s had become obsolete as a bomber and so the recently built B-17’s were completed to finish out a government contract, not to fill a military need. As a result, the government had these brand new Fortresses scheduled to go straight to the scrapyard. However, in July 1945, the Navy was working on their “Cadillac II” Airborne Early Warning project and had chosen the B-17 over the B-24 and C-54 as the best choice to carry the radar platform aloft. Since B-17’s were both plentiful and surplus to the Air Force’s needs, the Navy could pretty much have their choice of thousands of aircraft.

Naturally, they chose to acquire brand new “zero time” B-17’s. As such, the Navy showed up at Douglas’ door and laid claim to 20 of the last 31 B-17’s Douglas. Oddly enough, the eleven that were not chosen were sprinkled in amongst the ones that were chosen. The reasons for this have been lost to time, as has the fate of the eleven unchosen B-17’s. Most likely they ended up in the scrapyard like most other surplus military aircraft of the day.

Group photo at Douglas plantThe twenty lucky Fortresses were flown to Navy facilities on the East Coast in two main batches, the first on July 14th and the second on July 16th. The aircraft that would eventually be known as Texas Raiders was in the second batch. The Navy of course has a completely different system for aircraft designation and serializing than the Army. So the Army’s designation of “B-17” was traded for the Navy’s “PB-1”. TR’s Army serial number of “44-83872” was traded in for a Navy Bureau Number (BuNo) of “77235”.

B-17 SchematicsWith paperwork complete, the airframe was then stored for over a year while the particulars of Cadillac II were worked out and the painstaking procurement of the AN/APS-20 radar units was completed. Cadillac II had been the Navy’s answer to the kamikaze threat, but it turned out to be the world’s first successful attempt at Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS). Today AWACS is ubiquitous among the world’s top air forces, but it is the US Navy that invented it, right after WWII. The Navy deployed its first functioning PB-1W under Cadillac II in February 1946, but it would be another 15 months before Texas Raiders joined the fleet operationally.

Like the other 19 PB-1’s, BuNo 77235 was converted to a PB-1W by the Navy Aircraft Modification Unit (NAMU) at Johnsville NAS in Pennsylvania. The Norden Bomb sight, bomb bay, and most original bulkheads were removed. The bomb bay doors were sealed as a final notice of “this is no longer a bomber”. The B-17 had been chosen over the C-54 primarily because it was already armed and the Navy wanted their new radar ship to be able to defend itself if necessary. As such, all twelve AN/M2 machine guns and their turrets and flexible mounts were initially retained.

NAMU added a completely re-designed compartments for the crew of 12, a Command Information Center (CIC) with multiple radar scopes and radio transceivers, and provisions for P-38 type 300 gallon ferry drop tanks. But the most important and obvious addition was the AN/APS-20 Search Radar with the rotating “radome” scanner located in a bulbous housing below the former bomb bay. To save weight, PB-1W’s were initially left in their original aluminum with a wax finish to inhibit salt corrosion.

From an altitude o f 8,000 ft., an operational PB-1W could detect the presence of ships at 200 miles and a surfaced submarine at 180 miles. It could detect large groups of airborne aircraft 100 miles away, but not individual aircraft. With the onboard CIC, the PB-1W could then direct military assets wherever they were needed. This capability, though common and more developed today, was both groundbreaking and revolutionary for the Navy in the immediate post-war years.

TR at VX-4 Patuxent River MDHer conversion finally completed, TR joined the fleet in May 1947 and was assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Four (VX-4) in Patuxent Pt. NSA, MD. Having been born into a state of surplus obsolescence, Texas Raiders now proudly found herself instead at the cutting edge of modern technology. VX-4’s recognition code was “XD” and TR’s aircraft identifier was “1” in 1949.

Flight Log

The flight log entry shown here is from Radar Operator Lt. (j.g.) Joseph Basilone. On May 19, 1947 his log indicates a “Radar Test Hop” on 77235. It is our belief that this is TR’s first Navy sortie. Once operational, 77235 joined the “Pine Tree Line” keeping watch for Soviet incursions near the East Coast as one of the first Cold War warriors.

By mid-1946 front line squadrons had mostly removed the Top Turret and Ball Turrets from their PB-1W’s to better facilitate movement in an already cramped space. The Chin Turrets remained until at least 1950, however. Texas Raiders apparently followed the same trend. Finally, there is no record of a PB-1W being compelled to defend itself in the line of duty. A fact which most likely came to play in future AWACS iterations.

Navy overhaul line at NAS NorfolkIn April 1950, 77235 received her first major overhaul. Among other things, the bare aluminum finish was traded for a thick anti-corrosion “Red Lead” coating and painted in standard Glossy Sea Blue. Coming out of overhaul in November 22, 1950, 77235’s was temporarily assigned to Fleet Air Service Squadron (FASRON) 103 before being returned to VX-4. It is not known what tail number TR was assigned after returning to VX-4.

We do know that tail numbers changed often and are not a reliable way of telling one aircraft from another. From August 28 to October 13, 1951, TR was deployed to the UK to participate in Operation Pinnacle. On June 18, 1952 VX-4 was reformed into Seasearch-Early Warning Squadron Two (VW-2), although the squadron recognition code of “XD” remained unchanged.

The reformed squadron was moved back to NAS Patuxent Pt., MD as well. PB-1W missions at the time included Airborne Early Warning & CIC services, Scouting, Anti-Submarine Support, Electronic Countermeasures support, and weather reconnaissance.

Reportedly TR occasionally flew “hurricane recon”. This was somewhat different than the hurricane hunters we are familiar with today. However, there are records of PB-1W crews deliberately flying their aircraft into the eye of a hurricane/typhoon. We do not have any record to confirm or deny that TR was ever flown into the eye of such a storm. What is known is that in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, airborne radar was able to detect the eye of hurricanes and so aircraft like TR were in on the ground floor developing the early science around hurricane storm track predictions.

TR in Barber's Point HIIn April of 1953, 77235 was used as the test bed for the experimental Airborne Moving Target Indicator in Colorado Springs, CO. Immediately thereafter, on June 3, 1953 77235 underwent its second and last major Navy overhaul.

The second major overhaul was completed on January 15, 1954 and 77235 was assigned to Early Warning Squadron One (VW-1) in Barbers Point, HI. This would be TR’s last operational assignment in the Navy. Photos of TR during this time are easy to spot as VW-1’s squadron recognition code was “TE” and TR’s assigned tail number was “12”. By this time, however, PB-1W’s had begun to be replaced by the newer and more capable WV-2 Super Constellation (EC-121 Warning Star).

As you might expect, the Navy kept scrupulous maintenance logs for their aircraft, including TR. Some of these logs have entries going all the way back to July 12, 1945. We know this because due to the rescue efforts of Buddy Cooksey, the GCW is extremely fortunate to have in its possession one of those Navy Engine Logs and all four Navy Propeller Logs. Based on this information, we can confirm that none of these engines or propellers are still on the aircraft or in GCW maintenance stores. As is common with aircraft, in the event of replacement, they are swapped with ready assemblies and the old assembly is removed, taken to a rebuild shop, and put back into a “pool” for the next maintenance need.

TR in VW-1The information in these logs is quite valuable for other reasons, however. For instance, the Navy flew TR quite a lot while she was in service. Navy flight time was between 50 and 90 hours per month. For comparison purposes, the CAF usually flies TR about 100-110 hours per year today.

On January 15, 1955 77235 made her final military flight to the boneyard at Litchfield Park, Arizona. The flying crew chief that day was George Stewart, who dutifully carried out his assignment surely thinking he would never see the plane again.

77235 was maintained in Flyable Storage Status until stricken from record on July 14, 1955 and was officially retired from Naval service on August 25, 1955 following 77 months of service. At this time BuNo 77235 had 3,257 hours on the airframe. Of the 12,731 B-17’s ever built, only four ever logged more military time than Texas Raiders. Not bad for an aircraft whose only flight was expected to be to the smelter.

George Stewart & Dan Ragan

As a quick aside, in 2019 VW-1 veteran Dan Ragan organized his former unit’s reunion to coincide with Wings over Dallas airshow where Texas Raiders was a feature performer and exhibit. Returning members of the Airborne Early Warning Squadron VW-1 were proudly hosted by members of the Gulf Coast Wing, of which Mr. Ragan is one of our most esteemed members and a former Radioman on board PB-1W 77235.

At that 2019 gathering was another former crewmember of TR from her Navy days, none other than Mr. George Stewart, the man that had been on her last military flight to the boneyard 64 years earlier. We could not have asked for a better reunion. Gentlemen, we salute your service!

Aero Service/Litton Industries

In 1957, Aero Service Corporation was looking for an aerial platform to mount state-of-the-art cameras, survey equipment, magnetometers, and other sensors on board. The company decided that a B-17 would perform well in that role began researching available airframes. At Litchfield Park they found the perfect aircraft. BuNo 77235 which had flown relatively few hours since last overhaul and as such was in better shape than others in the boneyard. So, on October 1, 1957, 77235 was purchased from the Navy for then princely sum of $17,510. It may also interest the reader to know that 77226 was purchased at the same time, specifically for use as a spare parts source for TR and for the somewhat lower price of $15,010.

In Burbank 1958Now a civilian aircraft, TR was assigned FAA registration number and call sign “N7227C”, which the aircraft carries to this day. Aero Service gutted the interior, removed most of the nose windows, packed her with all kinds of modern cameras, sensing, navigation & communication equipment. N7227C was assigned as company aircraft #101.

For a second time, TR had turned a state of surplus obsolescence into technological state-of-the-art. AeroService used N7227C for aerial survey, mapping, high-altitude photography and even magnetic field mapping. Later on she even had a full length cargo floor installed complete with a large cargo door on the left side to further boost her utility.

Boeing had never designed the B-17 to carry out these sorts of tasks, but like B-17’s around the world N7227C adapted to the expectations of her new employer with ease.

N72227C was home based in Philadelphia, PA, but it was hardly ever there because Aero Service accumulated a steady stream of flight hours on her right from the start. N7227C was used as a high-altitude mapping aircraft for assignments all over from the Pacific Coast of the United States, Venezuela, and the full length of Chile. Another life cycle for N7227C began when it was converted into an aerial platform for all kinds of satellite tracking equipment.
Philadelphia 1963In 1963, the University of Alaska contracted N7227C to participate in the recording of the eclipse of the sun from a flight position over Northern Canada. Next, the aircraft participated in the oil and natural gas survey for the North Sea Project off western Norway and Scotland.

During its aerial photographic life, N7227C acquired the first complete photographic coverage of the South American continent along with extensive coverage of Central America and the northern regions of North America. The aircraft was used in the oil exploration field as an electronic geophysical and magnetometer platform for field surveys in the North Sea area North and East of Scotland along with extensive coverage of the North slope regions of Alaska. It was instrumental in acquiring data which led to the discoveries of some of the major petroleum reserves in the world. In short, her civilian career was every bit as incredible as her military career!

N7227C ‘s workaday life with Aero Service was punctuated by two very noteworthy sidelights. The first was in 1963 when the CBS TV show “20th Century” with Walter Cronkite, was attempting to create an episode called “Cameras Aloft, Secrets Below” which was attempting to portray the incredible capabilities of aerial reconnaissance. The problem was that the Department of Defense was offering no help at all on the subject. But then the producers heard about Aero Service, and some of the unusual and incredible capabilities their aircraft possessed. To make a long story short, ‘27C flew a mile above Yankee Stadium during a Giants football game where no one noticed her. From that vantage point, she took and transmitted video footage detailed enough to show TV viewers of the time the quarterback’s name on the back of his jersey. A real eye opener!

The second noteworthy event occured on January 12, 1965 when N7227C was asked to take part and be used as the backdrop for an Air Force general’s retirement ceremony. But it wasn’t just any general. This was General Curtis “Bombs Away” LeMay. Not only is LeMay properly credited with being the father of American strategic bombing, but he was one of the earliest champions of the B-17 and figured prominently in General Curtis LeMay 1965the development of the B-17’s capabilities from the time of the Y1B-17. Certainly, no man deserved a B-17 at his retirement ceremony more than LeMay did.

The gesture was well received and reportedly even brought a tear to his eye. There were perhaps 100 actively flying B-17’s in the world in 1965. Was it just chance that TR was the one chosen that day? No one in attendance could have possibly predicted that LeMay and this aircraft would continue to cross paths for another 20 years.

Thanks to the keen eye and preservation efforts of Buddy Cooksey up at HQ, the Gulf Coast Wing now has in its possession two AeroService Daily Logbooks which provide a wealth of previously unknown details of TR’s history. What might have been a tiny footnote in 1962 provides incredible insight today. The first logbook covers a 17-month period from January 1961 to June 1962 in which TR flew 546 hours. The second logbook covers a 15-month period from July 1966 until September 1967 in which TR flew 124 hours.

The reduction in flight time seen between 1962 and 1967 can be seen as direct evidence leading to AeroService’s decision to sell the aircraft to the CAF.

Commemorative Air Force Acquisition

By 1963, the fledgling CAF had completed what many had considered to be the mission of the organization which was acquiring all ten American WWII fighters. Indeed, the fact that a grass roots organization had been able to accomplish such a feat in the face of a government whose priority was disposal rather than historical preservation was indeed an impressive accomplishment.

Total CAF membership at this time was just 66 and economic funds to support the operation were handled almost entirely by personal sponsorships by those 66 members. The paid airshow performances and Living History Flight Experiences that are ubiquitous today were unheard of at the time. Acquiring, maintaining, and flying these aircraft amounted to an expensive hobby for those involved with it.
Original Texas Raiders Squadron Roster
With the original goal accomplished, a new one was needed to keep the organization driving forward. A growing number of members wanted to add bombers to the CAF collection. And so, in 1964 both a B-25 Mitchell and an A-26 Invader joined the fleet. But visionaries within the organization had their eye on “big iron”, namely B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers. The year 1967 would see the acquisition of both aircraft, although it would take another 18 months before the B-24’s engines were installed so she could join the B-17 in the skies.

Acquiring a B-17 was more challenging than one might have thought in 1967. Whereas civilian operated B-17’s were fairly common at the time, finding an owner willing to sell one was difficult. The B-17’s robust and flexible nature made it well suited for all sorts of civilian uses such as cargo, aerial tanker, photographic platform, etc. The CAF was once in advanced discussions with the city of Abilene to acquire its “gate guardian” B-17. That is until the local population got wind of the deal and promptly “killed the deal” to ensure their Fortress stayed put.

Next the CAF became aware of four Bolivian Air Force B-17’s that were for sale, but while attempting to overcome the logistical challenges of inspecting and transporting such an aircraft from South America, an interesting situation regarding a B-17 over at Aero Service came to the CAF’s attention.

Aero had a declining need for their B-17 and was open to the idea of selling to the CAF for two reasons: First, they were sympathetic to the CAF’s mission of preservation & education. Second, Aero Service still had the occasional need for ‘27C’s capabilities. As such, a buyer who was both amenable to the occasional leaseback of the aircraft and who could be counted on to refrain from adding large tanks or other modifications rendering the plane useless for Aero’s intended purposes served the company’s needs quite nicely.

Per an inspection report written by CAF Procurement Officer Col. Marvin “Lefty” Gardner dated April 1967, N7227C had ~5,200 hours on the airframe and had flown recently at the rate of 225 hours/year. The operating costs were listed at $90/hour on the airframe and $30/hour on the engines for a total variable cost of $120/hour (Compare that to today’s variable costs $3,500+/hour).

Per the Maintenance Logs, AeroService performed great deal of maintenance on TR just prior to turnover, to the decided benefit of the CAF. In August 1967 the “high time” #2 engine was replaced, along with the Oil Cooler, Feather Pump, and Prop Governor. Also replaced were a landing gear motor assembly, both brake assemblies, and oil tanks on both outboard engines.

This is quite a laundry list and is likely to have been the result of a turnover inspection report required by the new CAF owners. In any case, TR was apparently in top shape when ownership was transferred.

Telegram confirming CAF purchase of TROn September 22, 1967, the sale contract for N7227C was completed for a total of $50,000 through the greatest fundraising effort ever mounted by the CAF. Seventy-two CAF members donated the $30,000 cash portion necessary via sponsorship, with the $20,000 balance being amortized as future leaseback credits to Aero Service.

Terms of the leaseback were $120/flight hour plus $1,500/month standby time. AeroService would provide all fuel, oil, maintenance, insurance while ‘27C was in their possession.

At the time of turnover, N7227C’s total time on the airframe was 5,266:30 hours. The CAF’s Gary Levitz (of Levitz Furniture) personally paid the fuel bill to put 1,345 gallons of gas into the B-17’s fuel tanks. At just $0.43/gallon the bill came to $585. Today’s AvGas costs $5-$6 per gallon and runs the CAF ~$7,500 for the same amount of gas. My how things have changed!

We are indeed fortunate that the Daily Flight logs that Buddy Cooksey uncovered, also include the first CAF flights under CAF ownership. The aircraft was flown from Philadelphia, PA to Brownwood, TX with two intermediary stops in St. Louis and Oklahoma City. As there were no B-17 pilots in the CAF at the time, one of AeroService’s experienced B-17 pilots, R. Peskuski, flew with the CAF’s Lefty Gardner and Gary Levitz on the first two legs.

In Oklahoma City, with his job presumably done, R. Peskuski bid the new owners adieu and was replaced by the CAF’s Tom Short for the last leg into Texas. Tom Short’s son recently provided us with the photo shown here. We believe that the photo shows the historic final turnover of TR in Oklahoma City on the evening of 9/25/67 or early the following morning before TR’s final flight into Brownwood, TX.

Flight log to CAF from Brownwood TX to St. Louis MOFinal Turnover OK City 1967TR’s temporary home was to be Brownwood, TX for the sole reason that the runway at CAF Headquarters in Mercedes, TX was not long enough to take a B-17. While in Brownwood, TR made numerous flights to and from Harlingen, seemingly for pilot training and familiarization. She would stay based in Brownwood for a short time until the CAF moved its headquarters to the larger facility in Harlingen the following year.

Flight records show that TR was flown only once between 10/14/67 and 9/18/68 when she was given a 100-hour annual inspection and the logbook ends. As there are no maintenance or repairs listed during this period the reasons for sitting idle is unknown. It could be that the CAF simply did not have the funds to operate her.

B-17 Texas Raiders in an early publicity flight with B-24 Diamond Lil.N7227C became the first B-17 to be purchased and operated solely for the purpose of education and use as a flying museum. Whereas the fledgling CAF successfully overcame quite a challenge coming up with the purchase price in 1967, it turned out to be an exceptionally good investment. Today the aircraft is worth perhaps $8-12M while the original $50,000 purchase price wouldn’t be enough to rebuild so much as one of her engines today.

The photo to the left shows B-17 Texas Raiders in an early publicity flight with B-24 Diamond Lil. This photo was taken in approximately 1969 not long after Diamond Lil received her engines and had her first flight in the CAF.

Early CAF Life and Naming Attempts

N7227C was originally kept in the so-called “B-17 Squadron” at CAF Headquarters. In those days the organization of the CAF and all its aircraft was all housed at one airfield. It was not until 1971 that the growing fleet of aircraft was dispersed into Wings and Squadrons in other cities, states, and countries as the CAF is organized today.
Because scarce CAF funds had been spent mostly on acquisitions up to this point, there was very little left for operations and maintenance, let alone luxury items like paint and markings. As such, the initial CAF paintjob on B-17 N7227C was limited only to painting over the “Aero Service Corporation” lettering with a very similar looking “Confederate Air Force” lettering. The only other change prior to 1970 was the addition of a small “Stars and Bars” flag in front of the US Flag on the Tail.

Rebel's Revenge nose artDelta Rebel #2 nose artJethro CulpepperRFebel Field

In searching for an appropriate name for the CAF’s new majestic flagship, Walter Plitt, the CAF’s original museum curator, suggested naming her “Rebel’s Revenge” or “Delta Rebel”. Both names were a nod to the airfield she was based at and the tongue-in-cheek name of the organization. The nose art on “Rebel’s Revenge” featured a caricature that bore a striking resemblance to Jethro E. Culpepper, the CAF’s mascot. Clark Gable famously served on board Delta Rebel. Both names of these previously serving B-17’s had their champions within the organization. However, repeated delays due to authenticity concerns about color schemes and the continued low priority over scarce funds resulted in these plans being delayed and eventually forgotten.

In 1970 when funding was finally secured and allocated to paint the aircraft, a paint scheme decision had still not been made. So, help was sought from an expert. Who better to ask advice from than the Honorary Chairman of the American Airpower Heritage Foundation and the father of strategic bombing: Retired General Curtis LeMay. In a letter dated 3/25/1970 LeMay said in part,

“I suggest you drop the thought of trying to depict one airplane…. Try to depict one priceless trait of the US Air Force. ‘No Bombing attack was ever turned back by enemy action.’ On two occasions entire groups were shot out of the sky, but no one turned back.” LeMay went on to say, “Since the 305th was in action longer than the 100th and is still an active wing I would paint your B-17 with 305th markings…. An authentic tail number is 124592 and KYD painted on the side.”

The two bomb groups LeMay referred to that had been shot out of the sky were the 305th and the famous Bloody 100th. LeMay had been the original commander of the 305th BG and thus his steering of the conversation towards that BG could have been somewhat biased, yet on balance it was good advice. The name LeMay suggested for the CAF B-17, as such, was “Never Turn Back”.

LeMay paint scheme circa 1970CAF Director Jack Allerton sent out a memo on April 23, 1970 announcing that LeMay’s advice on both the paint scheme and the name would be adopted by the CAF. Both suggestions were appropriate and honorable. The B-17 came out of the paint shop on July 21, 1970 and this paint scheme is now fondly remembered as the “LeMay paintjob”.

Corresponding nose art was never applied however, and the name just didn’t stick. Further, LeMay’s suggestion of tail number 124592 and KYD were once carried by a B-17F named “Madame Butterfly” assigned to the 305th BG, 366th BS. That aircraft was lost in action on Sept. 6, 1943 and her crew was interned in Switzerland. All of which contradicted LeMay’s stated advice of avoiding the depiction of one airplane.

However, as this research demonstrates, there is much more significance to the LeMay paint scheme than simply that LeMay once flew with that unit. N7227C would have to wait three more years before her permanent name would be coined.

Gulf Coast Wing & Tora Tora Tora

Ghost Squadron route 1972In 1971, the CAF created the first three satellite Wings outside the Harlingen orbit. The increasing size of the CAF’s fleet required an increased need for volunteers to maintain and fly the aircraft. By 1971 that could no longer be met adequately in the local Harlingen area. The Minnesota Wing and the Dallas/Fort Worth Wing were the first two of these inaugural satellite units. The third was the Gulf Coast Wing (GCW), established on September 19, 1971, but the B-17 was not assigned to it. However, the first Wing Leader and Executive Officer just so happened to be the primary flight crew for N7227C, which became important to Texas Raiders’ future endeavors. The new Gulf Coast Wing had to wait eight months to be assigned its first aircraft, which were the Zeroes, Kate, and Val aircraft from the movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!”. As the primary B-17 flight crew, Van Skiles and Eddie Burke operated N7227C more than anyone else and frequently operated her alongside the Tora aircraft from 1972 onward. It would not be be until 1974 that Texas Raiders was actually assigned to the GCW.

1972 was a landmark year for the CAF when the entire CAF fleet was invited to participate in the Department of Defense (DoD) TRANSPO 72 airshow in Washington D.C. to celebrate the opening of Washington-Dulles Airport. This invitation was quite a feather in the cap of the CAF and the airshow lasted from May 26 – June 4. Twenty CAF aircraft took part, nearly the entire fleet. The festivities culminated in a pre-cursor to 2015’s Arsenal of Democracy tour when the B-17 (not named yet) led 16 CAF aircraft down the Potomac River past the Pentagon, over Washington DC, and down the runway of the new Dulles International Airport. Unlike the Arsenal of Democracy flyover forty-three years later however, TRANSPO 72’s flight path did not cross the National Mall.

Tora Tora ToraAnother landmark event occurred on June 25, 1972 when the “Tora Tora Tora” airshow debuted at the inaugural Galveston Air Show. Then, as now, N7227C was a part of it. The GCW leadership had been hard at work putting together some amazing choreography for the Tora act as well as adding smoke generators to a Zero and the B-17’s #3 engine.

The results were even more spectacular than anyone could have imagined. As amazing as the Tora show is today, those who flew and witnessed that first show in 1972 were treated to an extra exciting show. The crews that day were: Bob Garrett, Kent Ross, Bob Bunton and Tora Lead Tom Reedy flying the Zeroes. The Val dive bomber was flown by NASA astronaut Fred Haise of Apollo 13 fame. The Kate torpedo bomber was flown by C.A. Skiles. The two Wildcat pilots flying “defense” were NASA astronaut Joe Engel and Gerald Martin. The B-17 was flown by Van Skiles & Eddie Burke with Raymond Perry serving as Flight Engineer.

Though it would be unthinkable today, in 1972 the Tora aircraft lacked radios. As such, the airshow planners had set everything up on a very specific timetable that including introductions, the Star-Spangled Banner, followed by the first act, “Tora Tora Tora”. The Tora aircraft dutifully showed up at exactly 12:10 as scheduled. However, the rest of the airshow was running a few minutes behind. Thus, at 12:10 the Star-Spangled Banner was still playing when the first “Japanese” aircraft came in (just like on December 7th!).

At first, the announcer and pyro team were just as shocked as the audience. Both quickly overcame their initial surprise and joined right in with the Tora planes. B-17 pilot Van Skiles performed a one-wheel touchdown with the B-17 while Japanese aircraft and Wildcats swirled all around. After it was all over the Tora aircraft faded away, and a several moments of silence fell over the crowd as the significance of what they had just witnessed sank in.

One wheel landing maneuverThe famous one-wheel landing maneuver required a skillful pilot and favorable winds. This maneuver was a staple of the Tora airshow until it was discontinued in 1983 by decree of CAF Chief Pilot J.K. West after Boeing put out a communique warning about undue stresses on the aircraft that such a maneuver caused.

Naming TR, Early Configurations, and GCW Assignment

By 1973, a lot of people had put a lot of thought into what to name the CAF’s B-17. And then the perfect name came to Executive Officer Eddie Burke: Texas Raiders. The name simultaneously honored all Texas combat veterans while carefully avoiding commemorating a single aircraft or crew as no previous B-17 had carried the name. Eloquent, appropriate, and unique, the name immediately stuck. Nearly fifty years later Texas Raiders is known by her friends simply as TR.

Texas Raiders came to the CAF configured for high altitude photography and cargo. It would take 20 years to fully transform her back to a B-17G. Some of the early changes were to save the struggling organization money. Since the aircraft had no reason to fly at high altitudes and because turbocharger systems are very expensive to operate and maintain, these were bypassed by Bob Guenhagen on October 26, 1971 at the Dallas/Ft. Worth Maintenance Wing. Without turbochargers, TR is now restricted to altitudes below 12,000 feet, which given her mission since 1967, this is of no real consequence. Also, since crew oxygen is not needed at low altitudes, the aircraft’s oxygen system was also removed, and cabin heating system disabled at approximately the same time. Like all B-17’s, the only hydraulic systems on board TR are the brakes and cowl flaps. All other systems aboard the aircraft are either electrical or mechanical and remained largely unchanged.

Co-Pilot side knockout window
Photographic evidence of Texas Raiders shows that the co-pilot side of the windscreen had a knockout window installed in approximately 1972. This knockout window remained until it was removed during the Total Restoration of 1983-1986. Information regarding exactly when or why this window was installed have proven difficult to determine as to why it was later removed.

Texas Raiders was officially assigned to the GCW in 1974, after two years of operating as a de-facto Wing aircraft. TR has maintained her assignment to the Gulf Coast Wing ever since.

381st BG Paint Scheme and Turret Shells

By 1977, GCW Wing Leader Van Skiles had grown tired of the splotchy green camoflauge paint scheme that TR carried. Whereas it was an accurate paint scheme, it lacked pizazz and did not get the attention at airshows that he was looking for. Second, Skiles had been struck by one of LeMay’s pieces of advice, “drop the thought of trying to depict one airplane”. It bothered him that TR was carrying the tail number of just such “one airplane”. So he went looking at color photos from WWII to see what he could find.

Searching through countless period photos, Van Skiles eventually found a picture that now hangs in the hallway of the Gulf Coast Wing’s hangar. From the tail number we know that the bomber in the frame is Princess Pat“Princess Pat”, a B-17G that served with the 533rd BS, 381st BG during WWII. Van Skiles liked the paint scheme in the photo because the “red would look good in an airshow”.

Quite deliberately, Van Skiles had no intention of depicting Princess Pat. TR would use her own tail number, not Princess Pat’s. TR would have her own Nose Art, not Princess Pat’s. TR would have blue outlined national insignia, not Princess Pat’s red outlined insignia. TR would carry the same “VP X” markings but those weren’t unique. In WWII, aircraft within a squadron carried an “aircraft identifier”, analogous to a football jersey number:

Only one “player” carried a given number at any one time, but over time, lots of “players” have carried the same number. It was no different in WWII squadrons. In the 533rd BS, four differerent B-17’s carried the “VP X” identifier during the war. Texas Raiders would now be the fifth. The new uniform was set! TR’s markings are accurate for a non-specific B-17 serving in the 533rd BS, 381st BG just as intended.

Wintersho 1978Just prior to going into the paint shop, some key items were obtained and installed: First, an early “A-1” Top Turret shell (common to B-17F’s) had been acquired and grafted on. An empty Ball Turret shell was also obtained and crudely mounted. Twin “guns” (broomsticks or the like) were also installed in the Top Turret shell, Ball Turret shell, and Tail gun positions. Combined, these updates went a long way towards giving TR the look of a WWII B-17 bomber, at least from the outside. Inside TR was still in here AeroService configuration with just one bulkhead behind the flight deck, a full-length cargo floor, and a large cargo door on the left side.

In September of 1977, TR went in and out of the paint shop before quickly making her re-introductions at AIRSHO 77 in October. Photos of TR’s left side from 1977-1983 reveal an interesting oddity: reversed squadron markings that read “PV”. The right side, however, had the correct “VP”. Who made this “error” and why remains a mystery. The left side squadron markings were not corrected until 1985 during the Total Restoration repainting.

Warbirds Begin to Tour the Country

Although it seems almost incredulous today, there was a time when warbirds like Texas Raiders did not tour and could only be seen at airshows and at their home airfields. “Touring”, as we know it today, simply did not exist until 1976 when Vic Agather came up “touring” as a method to raise money to defray the tremendous operating costs of B-29 Fifi which were gigantic even during the relatively inexpensive era of the 1970’s. In 1978 Texas Raiders was invited to go on tour with Fifi for the first time. The rest of the warbird community quickly followed suit. Vic Agather and B-29 Fifi can rightfully be credited with what has certainly become the lifeblood of warbirds the country over. Living History Museums like Texas Raiders now visit the hometowns of millions of people all over the country each year providing an invaluable educational experience for the current generation and perhaps one last chance to honor what the Greatest Generation did for all of us all those decades ago. History has come alive for so many that otherwise might never have seen or heard one of these priceless pieces of history start up and take flight.

1978 Reno Air RacesDuring the 1978 season, Texas Raiders was invited to be in Reno for the annual Air Races. In what must have been quite a sight, TR even ran the racecourse for demonstration purposes. No word on if any speed records were broken on this flight, but we are indeed fortunate to have this photo of TR in her “racing days”!

With the exterior of TR looking the part of a WWII B-17, the GCW had yet to tackle the monumental task of restoring the interior. As such, Texas Raiders was in the same “cargo” configuration that AeroService had left her in. Perhaps one silver lining to this otherwise undesirable setup was increased seating space. Gulf Coast Wing Newsletters from the early 1980’s indicates a robust desire from the membership to be aboard the aircraft whenever she flew to an airshow. A “pecking order” for crew requests specifying boarding priority based on sponsorships, memberships, etc. was developed. Colonel Ralph Royce was listed as being in charge of this thankless duty in 1980 at that time when one of the striking “limitations” was that 20 crew and passengers were allowed on the plane at one time. Today, with an authentically configured interior, the maximum allowed crew/passenger count is twelve. But back then, TR had continuous bench seating on both sides so 18 passengers plus two pilots was not a problem.

TR "Bow to the Crowd" Maneuver
The photo above shows a long since discontinued airshow routine called “Bowing To the Crowd”. In spite of how it looks in a still photograph, the aircraft is not in motion. It is at a complete stop directly in front of the crowd line. With flaps down and engines revved up, the tail would rise, giving the illusion of a bow. The demonstration was quite popular with airshow crowds. However, crewmembers hanging from open hatches with engines running would be unthinkable from a safety standpoint in the modern world. As such, this act was discontinued about 40 years ago.

TR further distinguished herself by traveling outside of the contiguous 48 states. In fact, Texas Raiders has been South of the Border on numerous occasions. In the late 70’s, TR toured in Monterrey, Mexico. In June 1980 and again in 1982, TR was featured at the Canadian War Heritage airshow in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Nose Restoration Efforts

Feb-Mar 1980 WintershoShortly after Wintersho 1980 (held in Feb/Mar) Cheek Gun Windows were restored to both sides of the aircraft. This obliterated the existing Nose Art and thus it had to be replaced. The short lived “Large Flag” artwork was painted on by Col. Jim Bowers. However, late in the same year of 1980, further restoration was completed in the form of two small windows next to the Cheek Gun Windows. This completed the window restorations in the nose, but as before it once again obliterated the existing Nose Art.

Once again, new artwork was painted, this one remarkably similar to the previous, albeit with a smaller Texas Flag. Photos recently obtained from Craig Hall taken on the same day in the winter of 1981/82 show the first appearance of bomb mission markers carried on TR. Interestingly, the mission markers were painted only on the left side of the nose. The right side did not feature them. In 1982, the beginning of another era began when the very first “Bomb Girl” art appeared on the nose of the aircraft.

Today, over 40 years later, the wisdom of choosing the 381st BG paint scheme has passed the test of time. The 381st paint scheme has continued virtually unchanged through over forty years and three re-paintings of the aircraft. TR’s nose art, however, has evolved and changed no fewer than eight times. A photo collage timeline is shown here.
Photo Collage Timeline

Total Restoration 1983-1986

In January 1982, Pat Elliott, was appointed Restoration Officer and given the daunting task of project overseer for the remaining restoration of Texas Raiders from a “civilian aircraft” back to that of an authentically configured WWII era B-17G. There was much work to be done. During the next 4-1/2 years, all the modifications that had been done by both the Navy and Aero Service were systematically undone.

Nick-named “Col. Cool”, Pat Elliott set out during the first year to obtain a long list of authentic equipment that was missing from Texas Raiders: Norden Bombsight, Bomb Racks, Top Turret, Ball Turret, Navigation Equipment, Radio Room Equipment, Oxygen Regulators, Heated Suit Controllers, and the list went on and on.TR Work Crew 1983 The success of his mission is as impressive today as it was then: Pat obtained a fully functioning Ball Turret from a gentleman in Bellaire, TX for $2,500. A correct “A-6” Top Turret shell had been located at Barksdale AFB by Ronnie Grupe and an even swap for TR’s incorrect “A-1” Top Turret shell (used on early B-17F’s) was made by Buck Rigg.

A nearly complete Top Turret mechanism was found and purchased in California. A Chin Turret was acquired from a gentleman in Tacoma, WA for $1,500. B-17 bomb racks were impossible to find, but nearly identical B-29 bomb racks were acquired from the Air Force Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland by Tommy Garcia (and cut to fit) for TR.

One of the most valuable finds was a complete set of blueprints on microfilm, located and obtained by Tommy Garcia. These were used to manufacture pieces and parts that could not be obtained through other channels. With the stage was now set for a full restoration, all that was needed was time and volunteer hours. The original intent was to keep the aircraft flying each season, so the schedule for installing most of these big-ticket items was to take place during winter maintenance and the anticipation was that the total project would take many years to complete.

Prep for paintThe first jobs were tackled on schedule between the 1982 and 1983 flying seasons. That year’s project concentrated primarily on converting TR’s straight cargo floor interior to the authentic B-17G interior we all know today. In 1982, TR’s cargo floor interior ran all the way from the flight deck to the tail wheel with a large cargo door on the left side (between where the window and APU are today). Pat Elliott’s team replaced all that. Using original blueprints as their guide they fabricated and installed correct decking, bulkheads, and framing to recreate the Waist, Waist Windows, Ball Turret deck, Radio Room, Bomb Bay, and functioning Bomb Bay doors.
The previous “broomstick machine gun barrels” were replaced by twelve .50 caliber M2 machine gun replicas built by Gary Judkins, Eddie Beasley, and Tommy Garcia. To create these very authentic looking replicas they used authentic M2 barrels, triggers, and handles, but fabricated inert aluminum receivers so that they could never fire under any condition.

The M2 replicas were installed in every original gun position except for the Chin Turret which was still awaiting install. The previously empty Nose section began taking shape with a Bombardier’s panel, a Navigator’s table, and brackets for various equipment awaiting installation. It was just a small taste of improvements to come when restoration work was paused for the flying season. General Curtis LeMay was on hand early in 1983 to tour the ongoing restoration progress and is quoted as saying, “Hell, we didn’t have anything this good in Europe.” Strong praise from a high source indeed.

In September 1983, at the end of another successful year of touring, Pat Elliott’s team was gearing up for a second winter of restoration work. However, the Maintenance team discovered a small leak in a main fuel tank vent line. Due to the nature of the problem, the tank had to be removed, which was a time consuming and labor-intensive job necessitating removal of most of the wing panels. A hangar to do the work was required. Such a hangar was obtained, but TR’s 104 foot wingspan was just a little too big to fit. Maintenance Officer Dellon Bumgardner solved the problem by taking the wingtips off. One thing led to another and finally the decision was made that since the aircraft is halfway disassembled already, there was “no time like the present” for the entire Restoration Project to take place. As such, the original plan of doing the restoration in fits and starts over the winters was abandoned. For the next 33 months, Texas Raiders was stripped down for an intensive nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip full restoration and re-fit the likes of which no one in the warbird community had seen before.

Restoration Complete 1986From September 1983 to June 1986 nearly every piece of TR was taken apart, inspected, repaired or replaced, repainted, and most importantly restored to B-17G standard. The odd Cargo Door installed by Aero Service was removed and fuselage restored to original configuration. CAF Airbase Arizona donated an APU. The Chin Turret was installed. The Top Turret mechanism, though restored and ready, was subject to the decision to leave it in the hangar to facilitate tours of the Flight Deck. The Tailgunner’s position was gutted and re-fitted. The Radio Room was filled with an original and complete radio suite. The Bomb Bay racks were installed along with a bomb winch and realistic-looking dummy bombs made of fiberglass.

The Nose Compartment was filled with complete Navigation and Bombardier equipment including Drift Meter, Radio Compass, TACAN/LORAN-A, and an authentic Norden Bombsight. Throughout the aircraft scores of peripheral equipment such as F-1 and A-4 oxygen tanks, O2 regulators, Heated Suit receptacles, and Intercom ports appeared. The Tokyo Tanks were replaced and became fully operational. The entire electrical system was removed, re-designed by GCW member Ed Schwertfuhrer and installed by Continental Radio Company. Scott Royce was instrumental in completing the metal work. Buddy Cooksey installed approximately 5,000 new rivets. Tommy Garcia and Gary Judkins were given the most credit per the Restoration Officer, but more than a dozen GCW members distinguished themselves over the course of the project. Upon final reassembly in late 1985, the whole aircraft was stripped to bare metal, which also involved removing the Navy-applied “red lead” corrosion resistant layer, an expensive and time-consuming process. Once that nasty chore was completed, TR received a refreshed 381st BG paintjob. Finally, new nose art was applied by Otto Dickey using airbrush techniques. This restoration was done with volunteer labor and cost more than $300,000.

Best B-17G Currently Flying in the World

Texas Raiders made her first public flight with a triumphant return to the airshow circuit on June 21, 1986 at the Brazoria County Airshow. Later the same year TR was honored by AIR CLASSICS Magazine as the “best restored B-17G bomber currently flying in the world.”

COL Dr. Thomas J. TrediciOn August 25, 1987, Texas Raiders had the distinct honor of being asked to be on hand in San Antonio, TX as the backdrop for the retirement of the Air Force’s last actively serving B-17 Combat pilot; Colonel Dr. Thomas J. Tredici. Colonel Tredici had flown 18 combat missions in the 8th Air Force in 1945 as Pilot in Command before becoming an opthamologist and continuing to serve his country with distinction for over 30 years. Texas Raiders and the Gulf Coast Wing could not be prouder of this moment.

B1-B Dyess AFB 1992Imitation is certainly the sincerest form of flattery. In 1986, the USAF began taking deliveries of their newest bomber, the Rockwell B-1B Lancer, but they have always been called “Bone” by their crews. The third production B-1B aircraft was delivered to Dyess AFB (near Abilene, TX) on January 13, 1986. B-1B 83-0067 was immediately named Texas Raiders and had nose art identical to that of her CAF B-17G counterpart painted onto both sides. Sadly, your historian has been unable to procure photos of the aircraft in this configuration, so you’ll just have to imagine Otto Dickey’s nose art on a sleek, modern bomber. However, on May 31, 1992 this B-1B was turned over to Air Combat Command (ACC), also at Dyess AFB. At that time, 83-0067’s name and nose art was changed to Texas Raider. This bomber had an approximately 20 year career, but ironically, even with a forty-year head start, B-1B Texas Raider beat B-17G Texas Raiders into retirement. The B-1B can now be seen at Ellsworth AFB in Rapid City, SD as one of just seven B-1B static displays in the world.

Though the realities of the modern world increasingly make international touring less and less of a possibility in the 21st century, it wasn’t always that way. Texas Raiders had a trio of trips during this time to Mexico starting with Cuernavaca in November 1988, then Guadalajara, and finally to Monterey in September 1991. Sadly, due to increased political unrest and onerous customs requirements, TR has not been able to visit to our Southern neighbor since.

1993-1994 – Corrosion Control and Repainting

COL Ken HymanAt the conclusion of the 1993 flying season, TR was once again taken off-line for corrosion repairs, corrosion control, and a full re-painting, this time at Ellington Field in Houston. TR’s large size had frustrated previous attempts to find her a hangar home due to the daunting rental costs. Therefore, as an aircraft that was kept outside year-round with exposure to the extreme elements of Southeast Texas, corrosion was a bigger issue than it might have been otherwise. Nature’s processes continued to take their toll on her aluminum skin and even some internal surfaces. The corrosion was most severe in the stabilizer areas. In 1993, the aircraft was once again stripped down to bare metal and every square inch was inspected.

Down to the aluminumAs in previous efforts, the corrosion was overcome, repaired, and the aircraft repainted. Because of the re-paint, yet another Nose Art version was required. This time the nose art was designed and painted by renowned warbird artist Jackie Newcomer. No one would have expected it at the time, but Jackie’s nose art remained unchanged on TR for 23 years, longer than all previous nose art versions combined.
Jackie Newcomer

The 1993 corrosion control and repaint was a tremendous manual effort with major contributions from Pat Elliott, Everett Gibson, Ole Nygren, Ken Hyman, Dan Morgan, and Frank Wheeler, among others. Other costs associated with this effort, including paid work by Cooper Aviation totaled approximately $180,000. This restoration was filmed by PBS with a quality documentary "Honor Squadrons" and DVD’s are still available via Amazon as of this writing. At the conclusion of the corrosion & repaint restoration in March 1994, the aircraft returned to the airshow circuit where Texas Raiders was showered with accolades by being awarded "Best Bomber" by the Experimental Aircraft Association's Sun ‘N’ Fun Air Show and "Aircraft of the Year" by the Tico airshow in Florida.
MAR 1994 "Best Bomber"

Epic Canadian & Alaska Tour

In the summer of 1997 TR set out on an ambitious two-month tour that included ten stops in Canada and three in Alaska. TR took off from Ellington Field, Houston, TX on May 31st at maximum gross takeoff weight. Her Tokyo Tanks filled, the fuselage and bomb bay filled with everything they would need for the journey, the crew had filed a flight plan direct to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. However, weather was encountered near the Canadian border and thus TR turned around for an impromptu stop in Billings, MT after 9-1/2 hours in the air, perhaps the longest Fortress mission since PB-1W’s flew for the Navy! Billings became the kickoff point for this epic two-month tour and was thoroughly enjoyed by the crew and locals alike. After clearing customs in Calgary, the Canadian portion of the tour began with gusto on June 5th in Edmonton, Alberta.

Mt. McKinley 1997A 30-hour inspection was also performed by the crew in Alberta before moving on to Whitehorse, Yukon on the 12th. From June 19-23, TR visited Fairbanks, AK, then took a three-day break for a crew change. Then it was off on June 26 to Anchorage where she stayed until July 3. The next week was spent in Alaska’s capital city of Juneau. The 15th saw a return to Canada with a four day stop in Peace River, Alberta, followed by Dawson Creek from 7/18-24. From 7/24-28 TR participated in the Prince George, British Columbia Airshow before heading to Calgary on the 28th to close out the month.

TR transitioned late on 7/31 to Red Deer, Alberta until 8/4. The weekend of 8/4-5 was spent at the Cranbrook, BC airshow followed by a two day stop in Kamloops, BC. August 7-9 was spent at the Abbotsford, BC Airshow before returning South of the Border again with a stop in Helena, MT August 10-13 and Colorado Springs, CO 8/14-15. On 8/17, following a triumphant tour, TR arrived back home at Ellington Field in Houston, TX.

Alaskan/Canadian CrewIt was quite a journey. Over twenty years later the crewmembers are still talking about that trip! Curt Rowe, Frank Hale, Len Root, and Ken Hyman are all current members that will happily tell you tales from that trip. International visas, customs protocols, increased costs of fuel, and an ever-changing political climate have made repeating these international trips of the past difficult to repeat today, however. In any case, we hope to visit our friends in the Great White North again someday!

Texas Raiders on Film and TV

Texas Raiders has occasionally been tapped to appear in movies, TV, and documentaries. A couple of these might be hard to find, but a complete list is found below. The documentaries in particular are quite good.

  • Ike: The War Years – 1979 ABC Mini-Series nominated for five Emmy’s. Was the winner for that year’s “Best Edited Episode from a TV Mini-Series”
  • Real People –1970’s Reality TV Show. June 15th 1980 taping. Appeared with a Zero and an SBD
  • Brady’s Escape – 1983 Action Drama directed by Pál Gábor (includes a cameo performance by GCW member Pat Elliott)
  • Honor Squadron – 1993 Documentary by Public Broadcasting System (PBS)
  • Last Man Club – 2016 Drama directed by Bo Brinkman
  • Plane Resurrection: Season 2, Episode 1 – 2018 Documentary directed by Nik Coleman

Famous & Distinguished Visitors

Over her lifetime, Texas Raiders has been a magnet for high profile, famous, and distinguished visitors. Most, sadly were celebrated at the time, but the interactions were not sufficiently documented to be saved for the record. What is listed here is an incomplete list at best. It also assumes some relevant understanding of “famous & distinguished”, for which everyone has a different definition.

As has been mentioned numerous times already, General Curtis LeMay was a recurring and important character in TR’s storied history. Having first met at LeMay’s retirement ceremony in 1965, the two would have a 20-year relationship that was mutually beneficial.

General Ira Eaker, one of the most important early war Air Force generals in the 8th Air Force actually flew TR in 1979. In 1995 Captain Robert Morgan of Memphis Belle fame also flew TR. That same year at an airshow with Frank Godek, the grandsons of both Oppenheimer and Tibbets (both of whom were USAF pilots and Colonels at the time) sat in TR’s cockpit and had a half hour conversation. In 1995, Captain Robert Morgan, the Command Pilot of the original Memphis Belle honored the GCW by flying Texas Raiders.

In the early 2000’s, both the former commanders of the 381st Bomb Group and 533rd Bomb Squadron were guest speakers at Gulf Coast Wing annual banquets. In 2016 Colonel Charles McGee of the Tuskegee Airmen was hosted at Sun ‘N’ Fun Airshow. And from 2014-2019 Lt. Col. Richard Cole, who had been Doolittle’s co-pilot on the famous Tokyo Raid was a frequent visitor as well.

Today we are honored by the seemingly boundless energy of WWII veterans now in their late 90’s that come out and visit Texas Raiders whenever she comes to town. We continue to honor veterans’ heroism and sacrifices everywhere we go. It why we do what we do.

Living History Flight Experiences (LHFE)

By the late 1990’s, Warbird operators across the country were in financial crisis. Particularly the ones with large, multi-engine aircraft with high operating expenses such as Texas Raiders. The costs of maintenance, parts, fuel, oil, insurance, etc. had risen to a point that the traditional methods of fundraising could not keep up.

Understanding that an important educational era might otherwise come to a close, the FAA agreed to permit what is now known as a “6802” exemption for the first time in 2001. The 6802 exemption is what allows Texas Raiders and other warbirds to offer Living History Flight Experiences (LHFE) to the public. Texas Raiders flew her first LFHE on April 29, 2001 in San Marcos, TX.

Each operator has its own 6802 separate from other operators and it is good for just one year. Each year, the FAA reviews the operator, its safety record, procedures, maintenance records, etc. and decides whether or not to renew the exemption. The CAF is proud to have had an unbroken record of 6802 exemption renewals since 2001.

While tax deductible to the rider, revenues from LHFE are Texas Raiders’ greatest financial lifeline. Quite literally, without this revenue stream, Texas Raiders would be unable to cover operating expenses and would be relegated to becoming just another static museum.

Wing Spar Air Worthiness Directive

In 2001, the FAA issued Airworthiness Directive (AD 2001-22-06) to all B-17’s in the United States. Colloquially known as the “Wing Spar AD”, this required inspection of the aircraft's wing spars, terminal ends, and associated parts and sub-structures for corrosion. The Wing Spar AD was primarily aimed at B-17’s that had formerly been fire bombers as the chemicals dropped during those operations tended to be very Up on the jackstands again in 2001                          corrosive, but the FAA wanted all B-17’s inspected as such. Texas Raiders had no such history, but she had been kept around salt laden air for most of her life, so with that in mind, TR was allowed to complete the 2001 flying season and then undergo the AD.

TR’s last public appearance was December 6-9, 2001: A flyover and airshow to commemorate the opening of the new D-Day Museum (since renamed the National WWII Museum) in New Orleans. TR then relocated to Hobby Airport to begin the detailed inspection. Initial estimate was “about six months” to complete.

TR was parked at a space near the Rowan Drilling hangar, but outdoors since a indoor space could not be secured. Under the leadership of Ken English, GCW volunteers began disassembling the bomber. Flight Vehicles, Inc would perform the FAA inspection. However, one delay led to another and it was late Fall 2002 before the inspection phase was complete due to the scope of work being increased. Indeed, Wind Spar Terminal Endsadditional troubling corrosion had been found:

All 64 terminal end bolts were found in need of replacement. Significant corrosion was found inside both wings. Three upper spar chords needed replacement. Of greatest impact, however, was found in the wing spar terminal ends (WSTE), which are 15” long structural components that attach the main wing spars to the fuselage, four on each wing.

The upper aft WSTE on both wings were corroded beyond repair and had to be replaced. Of all the B-17’s that underwent the Wing Spar AD, TR was the only aircraft whose inspection resulted in a need for replacement rather than just repair of the WSTE. Whereas all the other wing components could be made from scratch or repaired relatively easily, the WSTE presented a unique challenge.

Making replacement wing spar terminal ends (WSTE) became a 2-1/2 year odyssey. Neither Boeing nor the USAAF had ever carried WSTE as a spare part. The rationale in WWII was that if a WSTE was damaged and in need of the replacement, then the surrounding critical structure of the aircraft must also be beyond repair. In WWII, this meant the aircraft was non-repairable.

Ergo, why carry WSTE as a spare part? For a combat-focused organization maintaining disposable, easily manufactured aircraft that weren’t expected to last long anyway, this was the correct approach. But this was 2002, and the underlying assumptions were much different than in 1944.

Wing Spar Restoration CrewThe next logical step was to have a machine shop make new WSTE from Boeings original spec, AN-QQ-S-756. This is when it was discovered that the closed dies used to forge these parts no longer existed. Re-creating the dies would be “cost-prohibitive”. Luckily, an equivalent part could be made without a die using equivalent materials and modern machining techniques.

But doing so would require FAA approval and that meant a lot of very technical and political paperwork. Boeing was asked for their help in the process, but they politely declined due to a corporate policy of not getting involved with the restoration projects of aircraft that were no longer in production. Boeing can hardly be blamed for this policy.

We live in a litigious world and projects like this represent significant risk. Luckily, an engineering firm with warbird experience, Aerodesign Inc., was found and they agreed to take on the project. The design fee was expensive however, driven more by liability insurance than the actual engineering. The design was finished in August 2003 and approved by the FAA in December. A trusted machine shop was found by Charles Hutchins and an order was immediately placed with Alan Reed of Reed Instruments.

Each part was machined from a single block of forged 4340 steel billet, heat treated, and plated per the new specs. The two new WSTE were delivered to the GCW August 2004 along with fitted and matching spar chords.

With the critical parts in hand, GCW was now faced with an untimely notice to move TR due to airport improvements that were underway. In December 2004, TR moved from its exposed outside location to the Houston Aviation Heritage Society’s (HAHS) hangar for the repairs and reassembly to begin. This was no small task. Texas Raiders had sat outside, exposed to the elements, immobile for six years. Her engines had been removed and pickled, and her control surfaces had been stored inside, but the remainder of the airframe had suffered from the hot, humid, salty, South Texas weather. Work was begun by a combination of GCW volunteers and Flight Vehicles, Inc.

Then, in May 2005, after just a few months of productive work, the GCW was notified that Texas Raiders had to find another home because the HAHS needed their space back. After a short, but frantic search, Millionaire FBO made their WR-3 hangar available for the project.

The main problem with hangar WR-3 was that it was neither tall enough nor wide enough to fit TR. The vertical stabilizer and outer wing panels were removed. However, this arrangement would suffice for most of the work that needed to be completed. Although TR would have to move back outside for attaching outer appendages. In addition to the corrosion work and reassembly of the aircraft, interior projects such as refurbishing wood tables, floors, fabric seat covers, fuselage plexiglass, and cockpit glass were all to be replaced.

Equipment such as the Norden bomb sight, machine gun replicas, flight instruments, and other equipment were scheduled to be refurbished and re-installed as well. While additional corrosion was found in the stabilizers and upper wing panels, this too was mitigated. The engines had to be re-hung. Flight controls were to be re-attached. When most of the work was completed, TR could then be rolled out onto the ramp and to have her vertical stabilizer and outer wing panels reattached.

In the HangarAll of this repair and reassembly work would require vast sums of money, tremendous amounts of volunteer labor, and a good project manager. All were in short supply and this caused unforeseen delays. Unlike previous restorations/corrosion repairs, this time TR would have to forgo the usual expensive new paint job as there just weren’t any funds available.

Richard Robin in the noseNaturally, the availability of money was the lynchpin of this project. Most delays were rooted in lack of funds to proceed. Walt & Sandy Thompson were instrumental in securing funds from a number of sources in addition to the proceeds from the annual Wings over Houston airshow which TR was thankfully still benefitting from. New sponsorships were acquired and a matching grant from CAF HQ was instrumental.

Volunteer labor was there, but midway through the 8-1/2 year project the efforts lacked coordination, morale was low and results were mixed. Chuck Conway, assisted by David Carr, took over as the Maintenance Officers in early 2007 and immediately reorganized and redirected volunteer efforts. Chuck implemented a regular, more crew friendly work schedule as well as organized teams to tackle each sub-project in a coordinated, efficient, and effective manner. Morale soared and progress increased at a rapid rate.

It had taken over four years to reassemble Texas Raiders, and the challenge had almost broken the back of the Gulf Coast Wing, but finally and triumphantly, TR returned to the sky on October 14, 2009. Just one week later TR flew the short distance to Ellington Field to participate in the Wings Over Houston Airshow as a static display. Texas Raiders had emerged from the greatest challenge of her CAF career in no small part because of the undaunted efforts of dozens of hardworking members of the GCW led by Ken English, Al Maxwell, Chuck Conway, David Carr, Ken Hyman, Bud Bearce, Ole Nygren, Gary Barber, Tom Taylor, Randy Wahlburg, Susie Bedlow, Walt & Sandy Thompson, Tom Newton, Richard Robin and many, many others.

Total cost of the 8-1/2 year project was nearly $700,000, not including volunteer labor. This nearly bankrupted the GCW and left it deep in debt. But the Gulf Coast Wing and its volunteer members persevered. A seemingly insurmountable challenge had been met and overcome.
First Flight after Wing Spar AD - 10/14/2009
Following TR’s return to flight status, a directive was handed down from CAF headquarters requiring that Texas Raiders be kept inside a hangar when not conducting tour operations. Whereas this initially caused some consternation and financial headaches for the Wing, the long-term results are decidedly positive. Texas Raiders was moved North to Spring, TX at David Wayne Hooks airport into the Tomball Jet hangar away from the salt air and the effects of mother nature. For the first time, Texas Raiders now had a roof over her head.

Back to the Airshow Circuit

Starting with the 2010 flying season, TR appeared at dozens of major airshows and touring-locations throughout Texas and the Midwestern U.S. Her timing could not have been better. Celebrating the 75th anniversary of the first flight of the B-17 in the summer of 2010, TR attended the Thunder Over Michigan Airshow that summer as a part of a great gathering of B-17’s.

The eight beautifully restored Flying Fortresses shown in the photo above: Yankee Lady, Movie Memphis Belle, Nine-O-Nine, Aluminum Overcast, Liberty Belle, Thunderbird, Sentimental Journey, and Texas Raiders flew a single formation flyover. Few knew it at the time, but this was likely the last great gathering of Flying Fortresses. As of 2021, just half of the aircraft in this photo are still actively flying. We may never see such an incredible sight again.
Last Great Gathering of Fortresses in 2010
On May 8, 2015, Texas Raiders took part in the historic Arsenal of Democracy Flyover in Washington, D.C. on the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Fifty-five restored WWII aircraft of all types including trainers, attack, bombers, fighters, and cargo took part. Each aircraft had a Secret Service agent on board. The formation’s flight path was carefully prescribed and allowed no deviation.

Texas Raiders and the other 54 aircraft flew at 1,500 ft East down the Potomac River, over the Lincoln Memorial, WWII Memorial, Washington Monument, down the National Mall (which was unprecedented), past the US Capitol before turning South down the Anacostia river. The aircraft were flown in 15 formations, in historical sequence, and represented battles from the Pearl Harbor era to Midway, D-Day and Iwo Jima. The final group was a missing-man formation.
2015 Arsenal of Democracy Tour RouteWashington Monument 2015

Continuous Improvement

Naturally, the safety of our passengers and crew are paramount. Texas Raiders, like all vintage warbirds, is a priceless, irreplaceable aircraft. The GCW has always operated Texas Raiders with an abundance of caution, flying only when all mechanical and weather conditions are right. Whereas no one can control the weather, we can decide when not to fly in it (and we don’t). Further, the GCW maintenance team works tirelessly to keep TR in top running order.

Texas Raiders doesn’t fly until Maintenance says everything is “go”. Operating under a mantra of continuous improvement, several important updates to TR’s ongoing preventative maintenance schedule have been implemented that have reduced unscheduled maintenance events and improved overall reliability.

A few examples include the addition of external cartridge type oil filters, an improved spark plug regimen, programs to develop individual maintenance expertise, and the acquisition of an additional spare engine and propeller. One of the most important new practices is the regular analysis of oil samples (analogous to the blood tests that a doctor reviews at your annual physical).

Whereas all vintage aircraft experience mechanical issues from time to time that result in canceled flights and even canceled events, Texas Raiders has experienced a much lower incidence of such issues because of the continuous improvement programs. The resultant increase in aircraft availability has resulted in happier airshow promoters, airshow attendees, and of especially those who experience Living History Flights.

In 2015 a chase truck and trailer was acquired by the GCW. This very welcome addition allows Texas Raiders herself to travel lighter while having a much larger supply of spare parts, tools, and PX available on tours. The volunteer Maintenance Crew has every right to be proud of their accomplishments in this area and we all thank them tremendously for their contributions.

2017 Repainting

RepaintingBy the end of the 2016 season, Texas Raiders’ well-worn paint was reaching a critical point. TR had not been repainted since 1993, the longest she had ever gone. Whereas in 2009 the paint had been touched up during the Wing Spar AD, a full repaint was desperately needed. Several years of successful touring had left the GCW with enough money on hand to send TR into the paint shop.

Up until this point in her history, TR had a normal cycle: Every 8-10 years she would go into the shop for significant corrosion repair, abatement, and re-painting.

Scott Williams However, this time was different: Since 2010 TR had finally been moved away from the salt air, had been kept in a permanent hangar for the first time, and since 2015 TR had been given an annual Corrosion-X treatment on all internal surfaces. As a result of all this, the causes of corrosion had abated significantly, and upon inspection, no significant structural corrosion was found. But it was still true that TR’s paint had soldiered through 23 years of wear and tear. Surface corrosion was indeed an issue. It was time for some “body work” and a fresh uniform.Repainting

In December 2016 TR went into the paint shop at Aerosmith Aviation in Longview, TX. The plane was stripped to bare metal for inspection. This time some minor surface corrosion was found, but for the first time, there was no significant internal corrosion to repair. Hooray!

There were challenges to overcome, however. Apparently, in 1993 Cooper Aviation had used a significant amount of patching compound had been used in various places where dents had been repaired. Much time and money was spent replacing the patching compound with straight aluminum panels.

Correct paint tones were researched exhaustively, and the 2016 paint job is believed to be as close to 100% accurate as TR has ever worn. Randall Langley, of PPG, was instrumental in having his company donate the paint for this project. Labor was a combination of contracted work from Aerosmith Aviation and volunteers from the GCW led by Tim Searls, Rex McLain, Bruce Guest, Jed, Ben, & Jake Doggett, and Larry Doucette. In February 2017, Texas Raiders rolled out of the paint shop looking like she had just come off the production line.

Since the Nose Art had to be reapplied in any case, the Wing used the opportunity to update the style and form. A professional artist well-known for his Vargas-style Warbird nose art by the name of Gary Velasco was brought in to paint the new version, with stunning results. Public reveal of the new paintjob occurred on March 8, 2017. We couldn’t be more pleased with the results. Total cost for this project, even with volunteer labor and donated paint was ~$190,000.

Artist Gary Velasco 2017Public Reveal of New Nose Art

Avionics History and Modern Upgrades

    Radio/Avionics Upgrades                           When Texas Raiders was built in 1945, she came equipped with a standard suite of state-of-the-art navigation and communications equipment, just like every other B-17. During the 1983-1986 Total Restoration project, all of that World War II era Navigation and Radio equipment were restored to Texas Raiders.

In the modern world, however none of it is used. Whereas it is of great importance to the CAF to maintain originality and accuracy in B-17G Texas Raiders, when it comes to communications and navigation, we use modern equipment for safety and reliability reasons.

Due to information gleaned from the AeroService logbooks from 1961, 1962, 1966, and 1967, we have an idea how TR was outfitted with regards to avionics in those days. As with the rest of her equipment, it appears that AeroService spared no expense with avionics. In 1961 TR had no fewer than three radios: 1) an RTA-1B (a.k.a. AN/ARC-9) HF Radio, 2) a Bendix VHF Receiver, and 3) a Collins VHF Transceiver.

There is mention in one of the logs about trouble with both the “#1 and #2 Nav System”, but gave no details as to what they were. Certainlly having two Nav systems aboard in 1962 was pretty fancy! Another 1962 log entry discusses a Transponder, so TR would have been an early adopter of that technology as well.

Fast forwarding to 1967 and the Maintenance Log covers the installation of “Magnetometer Bird Tow Equipment”, which would have been some sort of specialized sensor array, most likely for oil exploration. Just one month before turning over TR to the CAF, AeroService installed a new “Laser Radar Altimeter”, which seems pretty advanced for a civil aircraft in 1967, especially one that is about to change ownership. Finally, the Daily flight logs show that TR had not one, but two VOR units on board at the time of turnover, although #2 was apparently not working.

So what happened to what was apparently the incredible array of high-tech avionics aboard TR after the CAF purchased her? We don’t have any records available that prove one thing or another. What we do know is that TR operated for most of its early life in the CAF without radios. What probably happened was that the high tech equipment was cannibalized and installed on the CAF’s fleet of fighter aircraft. Since TR did not fly much for the first nine months after being acquired, this is indeed a likely scenario.

If it seems incredulous that Texas Raiders operated without radios for many years, rest assured that this was a common practic for private aircraft as well as warbirds in the 60’s and 70’s. Texas Raiders operated this way until receiving her first set of permanent radios after the Gulf Coast Wing bought a set using the proceeds of TR’s first ever tour with B-29 Fifi in 1978.

Since those incredulous early days, Texas Raiders has been the recipient of numerous avionics upgrades to her radios, intercom, and navigation systems to keep up with flight safety and FAA regulations. This new technology is so compact that it is installed in what was otherwise unused space on the ceiling between the pilots. Since the pilots themselves operate the radios & navigation equipment there is need to carry a Radioman or a Navigator on the crew, freeing up both space and weight.

In 1980, an upgraded Radio/Navigation system was donated by CAF Chief Pilot J.K. West. This system was described in the GCW Newsletter as “a considerable improvement over the previous set”. Six years later, during the 1983-1986 Total Restoration Project, the avionics, including the intercom, radio, navigation, VOR, and all associated wiring were upgraded en masse.

The new system stood the test of time as all remained largely unchanged for the next 27 years. In 2013 TR received a tremendous boost in technology in the form of a Garmin GPS 530 Navigation unit and Garmin 430 Radio. The Intercomm system soldiered on.

Just this year, in 2021 thanks to the generous donations made by Avidyne Avionics, Becker Avionics, and Force Aviation in the form of a greatly reduced price on communications gear and installation, Texas Raiders received a completely new, state of the art avionics upgrade. The most important need was the intercomm system, and TR now has a state-of-the-art digital Becker intercomm system that allows for every crew and nearly every passenger position to communicate.

Becker also made sure TR had a top notch backup VHF Transceiver unit. Finally, the crown jewel, is the Avidyne 540 GPS Navigation and Communications unit which replaced the previous Garmin. The Avidyne 540 provides all Navigation, ADS-B, and primary radio communication. Here at the Gulf Coast Wing, we are extremely pleased with the new additions.

Recent News

Schoolgirls name the Bomb Girl "Jessica"In April 2017 a group of schoolchildren approached the crew, pointed to the nose art, and asked, “What’s her name?” Accustomed to having the answer to just about any question, this one stumped us. The “bomb girl” didn’t have a name. So we let this group of schoolkids come up with one for her. They came up with “Jessica”, which was perfect. Thanks kids!
In 2018 Texas Raiders began performing airshows in partnership with the Air Force Wings of Blue (WoB) Parachute Team. Whenever possible, we now team up with the Air Force to drop the WoB team out of our bomb bay. It’s a great crowd pleaser as well as a unique thrill for both the WoB jumpers and the crew of Texas Raiders.

US Air Force Parachute Team

Come Experience Texas Raiders for Yourself

Since joining the CAF in 1967, Texas Raiders has carried out the CAF’s Mission of of Honor, Inspiration, and Education by appearing at hundreds of hometown airports and performing in hundreds of airshows across the country delighting millions of visitors along the way. We would love to host you next!
Gulf Coast Wing Family 2017

Texas Raiders continues to be operated and maintained by an all-volunteer group. For every flight hour, approximately 30 labor hours go into her maintenance. Today our Maintenance Crew is led by Terry Barker, Tim Searls and Bruce Guest.

Even with the all-volunteer labor force, the costs of operating this irreplaceable vintage aircraft are daunting and creep upwards every year. Direct (variable) operating costs such as fuel, oil, consumable parts, and reserve for engine rebuilds, is approximately $3,500 per flight hour. Indirect (fixed) costs such as hangar, insurance, etc. runs six figures and must be paid whether we fly TR or not. Costs rise each year and every year is a “running battle” to keep TR flying.

How can you help the Gulf Coast Wing continue to present CAF B-17G Flying Fortress Texas Raiders at airshows and local airports across the country? Lots of different ways.

  • The simplest is to come down to our home airport or airshow/barnstorming stop in your hometown and take a ground tour. You’ll really like what you see inside of our majestic B-17.
  • Second, you could participate in a Living History Flight Experience, which can often be life changing.
  • Finally, you can join our Gulf Coast Wing family and volunteer your time and effort to help maintain and operate this amazing aircraft.

It takes a lot more than just pilots and mechanics. We need your expertise, too! Our group works hard, but we have a lot of fun doing it.

Keep an eye on the schedule posted on our website to see when Texas Raiders and her stablemates JRB-6 Little Raider and SNJ-5 Texan might be coming to a venue near you! We cannot thank our veterans enough for the freedoms they have given us. We also thank our dedicated crew, fans, and sponsors for their continued support!

We could not “Keep ‘em Flying” without you!

TR in flightSkydiver drops from the bomb bayGulf Coast Wing Fleet - TR, Little Raider and SNJ-5

History of B-17G Texas Raiders Rev. 6/09/2021 2 - © Col. Kevin “K5” Michels

Saturday, November 12 2022, two aircraft were involved in a mid-air collision at Dallas Executive Airport.
Please join us in mourning the loss of our good friends and fellow airmen.
Terry Barker of Keller, TX Craig Hutain of Montgomery, TX Kevin “K5” Michels of Austin, TX
Dan Ragan of Dallas, TX Leonard Root of Ft Worth, TX Curt Rowe of Hilliard, OH
Our thoughts and prayers are with those involved in the accident and their families.