B-17E Swamp Ghost Preservation
Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum is home to the “Swamp Ghost.” This is an “as is” display of a B-17E forced to land in a New Guinea swamp after sustaining what was considered unrecoverable damage in the battle for Rabaul. The aircraft, left unnoticed in the swamp for decades, was salvaged in 2004 by aircraft archaeologist Fred Hagen and museum supporter David Tallichet. These two men worked to pull this famous B-17E from the swamp. It ultimately placed it at Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum as a featured display sharing an authentic WWII battle story. Swamp Ghost is arguably the world’s only intact, and unretired, World War II-era B-17E bomber. It is a one-of-a-kind example of an aircraft that played an indispensable role in winning WWII. And it is the only B-17 in the world that still bears its battle scars.
The Disney Vision for Swamp Ghost
In 2014, a team of Disney executives became interested in helping our museum share this remarkable story. Their vision to create a signature Swamp Ghost iconic nose art character; and 2) develop an interactive, immersive display to share the incredible story of the crew. During WWII, the Disney Company shut down their feature film productions in support of the war effort. They provided the military with most of their training videos, insignias, and nose art creations. By the end of the war, the company stepped away from its military connection and support.
Here is the rest of the story:
High above recently-captured Rabaul, New Britain, and piloting a fully loaded B-17E Flying Fortress, Capt. Frederick “Fred” C. Eaton, Jr. had just spotted his target – a 10,000-ton enemy freighter. As he lined up to unleash his payload, the bomb bay doors malfunctioned. The crew worked feverishly to open the doors as he circled for a second attempt. Japanese anti-aircraft batteries zeroed in on the lone bomber’s altitude and unleashed a hellish barrage, damaging the wings. Lining up the target once more, he went in. This time, the doors opened and the bombs fell toward their target. As if on cue, Japanese fighters swooped in, guns blazing. Eaton and his crew were in a fight for their lives.
The aerial battle raged, bullets and cannon shells riddling the Flying Fortress as it ran for cover. In the skirmish, tail gunner John Hall claimed an enemy aircraft, while waist gunners William Schwartz and Russell Crawford added two more claims to the tally. In the aftermath, Eaton believed the port wing was bleeding fuel from an unexploded flak round. Knowing he wouldn’t reach the safety of the refueling field at Port Moresby, New Guinea, he flew as far southwest as the fumes could carry them. Salvation revealed itself — an isolated swamp in the foothills of the New Guinea mountain range — just as the crew determined the stricken bomber couldn’t climb over the towering Owen Stanley mountains. Eaton slid the heavy aircraft into the swamp water for a wheels-up landing. The B-17 slewed sideways and settled in the deep kunai grass without breaking up. Despite the running battle and the crash landing, there were zero casualties. Six weeks and dozens of malaria-infested miles later, Eaton and crew finally reached safety. They were assigned another B-17 and continued to fly for the rest of the war.
For more than three decades, that lucky Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress, serial 41-2446, lay intact and virtually undisturbed, all but forgotten. In 1972, it was spotted by a Royal Australian Air Force helicopter and local press dubbed it the “Swamp Ghost.” It is not the bomber’s historical name, but the name history gave it.
You can help bring this story to life!