n June 24, 2001 twelve TIGHARs gathered at rustic Strawberry Lodge in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe for an Introductory Course in Aviation Archaeology and Historic Preservation. In two days of classroom work under the tutelage of archaeologist Tim Smith (TIGHAR 1142CE), Craig Fuller of Aviation Archaeological Investigation & Research (TIGHAR 1589CE) and TIGHAR’s Executive Director Ric Gillespie they earned their “C” certification and prepared to head into the mountains on an expedition to survey the remains of a rare Boeing B-17C Flying Fortress that broke up in mid-air during a storm in November 1941. Margot Still (TIGHAR 2332CE) prepared an excellent research summary on the loss and acquired an impressive collection of original photos from Boeing for reference purposes.

Unlike the largely intact Douglas B-23 Dragon surveyed last year on the shores of Loon Lake, Idaho (see Loon Lake), the B-17 is scattered over several square miles of steep, forested terrain. The TIGHAR expedition team used handheld GPS units and the original Army Air Corps crash report and maps to locate several major components. As with many such sites, some pieces are missing.

The largest intact component of B-17C Air Corps No. 40-2047 is the center section with starboard outer wing panel which lies inverted near a creek bed. The port outer wing panel is on a hillside about a quarter mile away across the creek. The bomb bay is easily identifiable although the doors and shackles have been removed.

Photo courtesy Nancy Ballenger.

The entire empennage (tail section of the airplane from the wing aft) lies on a steep hillside about half a mile from the center section. Although collapsed and torn apart from the impact, some distinct and extremely rare features of the B-17C are still very much identifiable. For example, the “bathtub” ventral gun position is crumpled but largely intact.

This relatively primitive system of belly defense would in later versions of the Flying Fortress be replaced by a pair of remotely-operated, periscopically-aimed guns and, ultimately, by the famous ball turret.

TIGHAR photo by R. Gillespie.

Also present and identifiable are waist gun positions which, in the B-17C, retained the teardrop shape, but not the convex blisters, of the B-17B. With the E series Fortress the waist positions became rectangular. The trademark narrow vertical fin was not present at the site but is reported to be at the Western Aerospace Museum in Oakland, California. The expedition team did an outstanding job and those who had not previously participated in TIGHAR field work earned their “E” certification.
TIGHAR photo by R. Gillespie.
The B-17C Team
Kneeling left to right: David Osgood, TIGHAR 2353CE; John Clauss TIGHAR 0142CE; Nancy Ballenger, TIGHAR 2315CE; Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR Exec. Dir.; Bill Moffet, TIGHAR 2156CE. Standing left to right: Jerry Kobbeman, TIGHAR 0474SCE; Roger Kelly, TIGHAR 2112CE; Skeet Gifford, TIGHAR 0001CEB; Bill Banas, TIGHAR 22357CE; Ray Schweibert, TIGHAR 2163SCE; Tim Smith, TIGHAR1142CE, Megan Fisher, TIGHAR 2339CE; Fred Madio, TIGHAR 2042CE. Not shown: Craig & Heidi Fuller, TIGHAR 1589CE; Margot Still, TIGHAR 2332CE.

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