Gonna Need a Bigger Barn: B17 Bomber Restoration!

Image courtesy of Just A Car Guy Blog

It’s one thing to start an ambitious restoration project; it’s another thing to have to find a building large enough to house said project before you ever turn a wrench. For those of us who like big undertakings, restoration efforts like the one shown here to restore one of the last remaining B17 bombers – known affectionately as the “Desert Rat” – there’s a sense of reverence and awe that washes over you, amazed at the scale of the efforts the men behind this significant revival are taking on. Barn Finds reader JRHaelig tipped us off to this video here on YouTube with a tour of the facility the B17 is housed in, but you should also check out the Facebook page of the group behind the project – and how you can support them.

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Image courtesy of AeroVintage.com

This is a long story to tell, so I’m going to summarize the best I can. Basically, we all know by now that the B17 bomber is one of the most significant aircraft in U.S. aviation history, playing significant wartime roles that helped to ensure global peace and prosperity around the world. When they returned from duty, like all military apparatus, they were used for a variety of less-lethal roles, and oftentimes ended up being salvaged for scrap, which is why the values of surviving vintage aircrafts has climbed so significantly. That’s exactly what happened to this B17, which made its last landing at a base way up in Bangor, Maine, before being sold to a local junkyard – which is where it was found, decades later, never having been completely cut up and still mostly intact.

Image courtesy of AeroVintage.com

The B17 had been partially disassembled, and some aviation enthusiasts pillaged the plane of its engines, cowlings, landing gear, and propellers, under questionable circumstances. The same group resurfaced years later with promises of donating the components to the National Warplane Museum at Geneseo, New York, but never made good on the deal. Regardless, the discovery of XC-108A would remain a secret for another few years until a local aviation enthusiast stumbled across it and bought the remains of the B17 from the junkyard owner’s sons. This individual knew the current caretaker of the remains was intent on restoring a B17, and made a deal to sell him the remains for just under $8,000. The logistical challenges alone would have stopped most of us in our tracks, but eventually the plane was removed in sections and transported to Illinois.

Image courtesy of AeroVintage.com

Mike Kellner, the owner of the plane, was 30 years old when he hatched these plans. Since then, he has assembled a team of volunteers and identified multiple craftsworkers, engineers, and other specialists who can assist in the reassembly and total restoration of this historic aircraft. According to aerovintage.com, the plane will be restored to “…B-17E configuration with turrets and other equipment reinstalled.” Work is understandably slow, but the fact that it continues is a lifetime achievement in and of itself. Though it is privately funded, the effort always welcomes financial support (you can buy some awesome t-shirts via the Facebook page above), and God willing, the Desert Rat will fly once more. Could you ever fathom taking on a project like this?

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  1. Fahrvergnugen FahrvergnugenMember

    BBC’s. Make that FOUR of them…

    Like 11
    • Scott C Williams

      Gonna take more than 4 – the original Wright Cyclones had 1200 HP apiece.

      Like 4
  2. 4spdBernie 4spdBernie

    Impressive! But they need a bigger barn!

    Like 7
  3. Nevada1/2rack NevadahalfrackMember

    While volumes have been written about the incredible Boeing B17 and its starring support role in WWII (starting with the flight landing at Pearl Harbor after the attack), you and your fellow writers have helped to keep that feat alive with articles like this, Jeff, as have visionaries like Mr. Kellner.
    My household and extended family will have at least a tee shirt or more each in their closets bought from the “Desert Rat” group in support of their efforts to keep history alive for our future generations.
    Your remarks about the non lethal usage after WWII brings to mind a range fire many many years back in a nearby town where we saw a number of TBD’s and a few B17’s had that had been modified to make “slurry” drops on the fire lines-and the white patrol car stopping ingress to the fire zone that was a little too close to the fire line, resulting in a suddenly pink Chrysler Cordoba with the overheads slowly spinning down to a stop..
    Fortunately the officer was inside the car when it happened!!

    Like 21
    • Nevada1/2rack NevadahalfrackMember

      FWIW, they’ve apparently taken down their website but on a YouTube update contact information was left as follows:

      To reach Mike Kellner direct, 847 924 8284

      Please help them bring to life again this restoration project, described by a warbird type website as a “long shot”-most of us know about those, don’t we?

      Like 9
    • David Frank David FrankMember

      No matter how long this restoration takes, even generations, it will be saving a valuable part of America’s aviation heritage. There are only about 40 B17s remaining and only 9 airworthy.
      I was fortunate enough to get a few (too few) minutes stick time in Butler Aviation’s E-15, Tanker 65 N5237V, when it was based at Roberts Field in Redmond, Oregon. (She lives at the Royal Air Force Museum, in London, UK at the old Hendon Aerodrome) We can only hope this B-17 can be restored and look so grand one day.

      Like 21
  4. Bluetec320 Bluetec320

    Heck, in a few more years, that old tattered squarebody that toted it home may be worth more than the plane!

    Like 15
    • Dave

      that’s the stupidest thing I’ve seen someone say on the net in years.

      Like 9
      • Bluetec320 Bluetec320

        You must live a sheltered life there, Dave. The stupidest thing I’ve seen on the net in years is the current going price for old beat-up Chevy squarebody trucks!

        Like 30
  5. Carlito

    A shameless reminder of war.

    Like 16
    • Skorzeny

      Only the dead have seen the end of war.
      Without thousands of aircraft like this being flown by brave Americans, we might not even be here.
      EVERY warbird deserves to be saved…

      Like 123
    • Jack Burton


      Like 6
    • SidneyMember

      Yes, a war we did not start, but our Heroes stood up and gave the necessary measure to stop the axis horde!

      Like 10
  6. HoA Howard AMember

    Make a house out of it. A support group for this? Good grief. Got to admit, people got guts, I mean, for most here, helping fund a WW2 airplane project isn’t exactly in the top 10 of where our money goes. Maybe THEY could help fund my teeth repair,,,just kidding, it’s a crazy world, for sure. With the way things are going, it won’t be long, if not already, WW2? What’s that?,,,I dread that day, and hope I don’t see it. I say this everytime some kind of historic WW2 piece comes up, and the B-17 is LOADED with history, like 4800 pounds worth(payload) I read, they used an incredible 200gals./hour. The price of freedom. If it wasn’t for these machines, and the people that operated them,( dwindling fast) we might be speaking a different language today.

    Like 24
  7. Richard Kirschenbaumt

    Every B 17 fan and armchair historian must see Air Force (1943) a fictionalized account of a B17 that flew straight into the Pearl harbor attack was then dispatched to the Philippines via Wake Island and finally escapes destruction by flying to Australia encountering a Japanese task force along the way. Among the best propaganda films to come out of WWll, it was still free for viewing on utube last time I checked.

    Like 2

    I’ve known about this for the better part of 20 years. I know of it through Ken Kellner (Mike’s brother) whom I know through both our local car club & a model car club. To say this is a labor of love is an understatement!

    Like 14
  9. Jim

    Very nice, I hope the.putnhernback up.

    Article needs an edit.
    There is no such word as”Aircrafts” it is “Aircraft” for both Singular & Plural. Or should I start nursing the works Sheeps and Shrimps.

    Like 0
  10. piper62j

    My dad was B17 and B25 technician.. One of his brothers was a co pilot on B17s and another of his brothers was a bombardier on B17s. They’re all gone now but we still have their memories.. All survived the war and raised families..

    Like 29
  11. t-bone BOB

    Located in Morengo, IL

    Like 4
  12. Thom Griffin

    If you’re referring to the taking down of confederate monuments, history is written by the victors.
    I served in the infantry in Vietnam. I understand why the losers should have their monuments. But I also believe plaques explaining the slaveholding of Washington, Jefferson, and others should be visibly displayed.

    Like 0
  13. charlieMember

    An acquaintance and family have been “restoring” an Italian castle for decades, with decades to go. Same sort of thing, hard to contemplate being able to see this kind of thing through.

    Like 2
  14. Stu

    I bought a Taylor Cub from the junkyard folks back in 1969. The B-17 was one of 2 surplus airplanes that they had bought, the other was a B-25, but that one unfortunately was cut up and scrapped. My friends and I spent many hours inside all the buildings, box cars and the fuselage of the B-17. We never found any trace of the engines, so I’m not sure if they were ever in the same place as the plane. We were told that this plane was Hap Arnold’s B-17, so maybe someone can research that. I hope she flys again someday!

    Like 5
  15. Chris LondishMember

    So great to see a piece of world history coming back to life, we have B24 project were I am here in Australia at the old Werribee airstrip it is a long game good luck to those guys

    Like 2
  16. Jim

    Thanks for changing the aircrafts to aircraft

    Like 0
  17. rod glaser

    Was able to fly on the “Ye Old Pub” B-17 couple of years back right before one of the 10 remaining flying at the time crashed. Absolutely the best day of my life! Alot of video taken for years of enjoyment in the future. Would do it again if ever given the chance. I recommend anyone do the same to get a small sense of what these 17-20 yearolds went thru to make this country what it is today. God bless America.

    Like 2
    • JohnSSC

      I’ve flown on two. The Nine O Nine, which crashed several years ago in which 7 lost their lives. The second was on the Yankee Lady. I got to sit in the navigator’s seat during landing – awesome experience both trips. No matter who takes these restorations on it’s a labor not of love but of passion. Total respect to those folks whether they are restoring a B-17 or a Nash…

      Like 0
  18. Alex Delavigne

    My dad was a trainer in WW2 teaching the airmen to fly B17s. The Air Force sent my dad to France for two years to train the Free French Forces since he spoke perfect French. I have pictures of his plane and I have the compass from his plane as well. When I was in boy scouts one of the dads asked me noticed my last name and asked me if my dads name was John to which I replied Yes. He said that he was on my dads flight crew during the war. They were able to reunite, we actually lived in the same town.

    Like 3
  19. Rob S

    A few years back i was carrying my R/C P51 into my toy store when i heard a voice a few cars away saying “thats a P51 D mustang, those planes saved my life!” I looked over to see a old but very able man wearing a multi print B17 shirt with a strange looking cross on a heavy chain around his neck. We stood in the 115° heat as he shared his incredible stories being a bombardier and radar operator on B17s for 23 missions over germany. He was shot down twice, narrowly escaping german soldiers the first time, POW the second time. Tears came to his eyes when he said he killed alot of people. Tears filed my eyes when i said to him, “without men like you, we would not be free” i was incredibly humbled and touched by this man, a member of the “greatest generation”
    That big cross…? The distinhguished flying cross!! His name was “uncle Russ”
    On another note i had the pleasure of meeting a Red tail P51 pilot. He was shoot down and suffered severe burns over 80% of his body in 1944. This great man, in 2014, was still very capable of taking care of himself. I was escorting him from his flight to a limo. I made an offer to have a cart transport him. My big mistake. He said to me, ” goddammit son, these legs still work, i will get myself there!!” If only i will be that strong when im thier age. Amazing people!!

    Like 7
    • HoA Howard AMember

      Sounds like Hank Hills father. I don’t know about the “Greatest Generation” part, I came from a pretty great generation ( Baby Boomers)but they truly went through Hell. I try and thank every Veteran I see as well. I’m not sure if there was a war the magnitude of WW2 again, if we would be able to muster the strength to win something like that. Certainly not without the help of the British. Thanks for your story, Rob,,, USA, USA!!!

      Like 3
    • Kelly Breen

      I got a similar reaction with my Typhoon. This time the veteran was the armored support group of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. He did not know they were called Typhoons. He called it a hedge hopper. The model went back to Nova Scotia with him. No way I was keeping it after hearing that.
      Oh Carl Lowerson you are gone but not forgotten.

      Like 3
  20. Scitt

    Its left to individuals to keep history alive …if governments spent a small fraction of their military budget on these projects there would be no need to private funding!

    Like 1
  21. piper62j

    Forgot to add… I had the opportunity to ride on a B17 from Norwood Airport in Massachusetts.. “Fuddy Duddy”. Paid $700 for a 20 minute trip that lasted almost an hour.. Had complete access to the plane except the pilot platform.. What a great time of my life..

    Tearing down our monuments and erasing our history as a country has repercussions to those who wish to destroy us.. Our history is important as it shows who we are and how we got to be the greatest nation that others want to come to.

    Like 4
    • Piper62j

      We patriots need to come forward in some manner to stop the leftist movement. Not to start a political rant, but we need a leader. Something is very wrong with our country right now.. Barn finds is a great outlet to look back at our history and enjoy the roots our nation was built on.. Whether it’s cars or monuments.

      Like 1
  22. charlieMember

    This discussion is a bit far afield from old cars covered in bird droppings, but important: We need reminders of this country’s successes and failures, removing reminders of failures is short sighted. Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. Leave the statutes of Lee, and others now out of favor, and add a plaque explaining the good and the bad. Like the B-17, a reminder of the good, air museums have Zeros, and MIG’s, reminders of the bad, like Lee, and Calhoun, amazing in their own right, even if they were on the wrong side of history. The Vietnam Memorial has it right, a sober reflection of our mistakes in foreign policy. The Middle East Wars Memorial, when it happens, should be equally sober, but, it should exist as a reminder of what works, and what does not, in the big picture, but honoring the men and women on the ground who merely did their duty. So all those Confederate Soldier monuments in small towns in the South, paralleled by Union Soldier monuments in small towns in the North, should remain as reminders of failure of political decisions, but honoring the men and women on the ground who gave their lives for the cause.

    Like 6
    • piper62j

      I believe a barn find is a barn find.. We’ve had motorcycles, boats and planes on this forum before and it’s not the item befitting, but the history of it’s existence to the relation of a barn find.. No disrespect to any of the comments here. I keep my mind open to all types of finds. You never know when you’ll score on a good one.

      Like 2
      • Dave i

        agreed…but 95% of the “Barn Finds on here lately look like they just came from Barret Jackson.

        Like 3
  23. Jim Benjaminson

    My daughter is a nurse with the VA. Due to privacy concerns, she can’t tell me names, etc., but she sent me a message one day – “Dad, I had a lady in here today that I know you would love to talk to. She is 92 years old, never married and during WWII she was a mechanic on the B-29’s and after the war, B-52’s.” I never did learn the ladies name until I read her obituary in the paper. Sadly that history is now lost to the ages……

    Like 2
  24. Tony T

    “They” recently completed the resto on one at the 8th AF Museum in Savannah (GA). Saw/heard it fly over our digs on Whitemarsh Island … imagine those aluminum overcasts over Berlin, Dresden, Frankfurt, etc. … daylight … “12 o’clock High”

    Like 4

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