Overview of the B-17G project.


This is about a B-17  “Memorial” build in memory of all the Army Air Force men who served and died in World War II.  It is build for them, by volunteers, in Urbana, Ohio.

This is the first of a series of articles we will document about our experience in building a  B-17G airplane. The planning for the project got its start in 2005. 

The actual work started on Jan. 4th, 2006.

Visitors are under impression that we are restoring a B-17.  The project in 2006 was considered a restoration but it was discovered some time later that we might as well start all over and make new parts.  Damaged and corroded parts don’t make an airworthy airplane. 

The airplane is built from a very large number of original Boeing Aircraft Company drawings. These drawings were generated and updated in the period 1941-1945.

We have to adhere to these drawings to get an airworthiness certificate and fly this machine for many years.

It is basically a new airplane with (4) overhauled (like new) engines.

Urbana B-17


Visitors to our B-17 project ask often why don’t you get parts from the bone yards in Arizona or California.  If there were any …….. we probably would.

There are no old B-17 frames or sections offered for sale. There are none in bone yards.  

May be there is one in New Guinea like the Swamp Ghost.


Old B-17 sections or old parts might be available from private sources but at very high price levels.


b17g-44-83316 Front section




Forward section 3 Forward Section 1

Most of these parts are 70+ years old and may not be in good condition.

The approximately (10) B-17  aircraft which are still airworthy and fly are built in 1944-1945 are carefully maintained but some show their age. 

The oxidation process of the 70 year old aircraft’s aluminum is unfortunately ongoing.

To start a B-17 restoration/construction project you have to have a dream, a very large building, lots of tools and plenty of money.

We all know there is a huge difference between a static display in a museum and an airplane which will fly for a number of years.

Accuracy and compliance with large airplane standards have to be adhered to, to fly such an aircraft. 

At some time a restored/constructed airplane has be presented to the FAA and a certificate of Airworthiness has to be obtained.

During the construction a Builders Log has to be maintained by a highly competent certified A&P.    A person who has experience rebuilding large aircraft. A person like that does not come cheap, that is, if you can find one.



Jerry Shiffer, founder of the project.

How did the project start?

In the fall of 2005 a successful business man, Jerry Shiffer had such a dream.  He wanted to restore a B-17 and use the project to teach young people vocational skills.

Liberty Bell
Liberty Bell

The project got started as follows;

Early In the summer of 2005 Jerry Shiffer got a ride in a B-17 , the “Liberty Bell”, taking off from Grimes Field in Urbana, Ohio.





During the summer of 2005 the Liberty Bell had to stay for a while at the Urbana airport for repairs and maintenance. This drew a lot of attention from the public.

During the stay of the airplane in Urbana there was a lot of assistance given by the locals to the B-17 maintenance crew. It showed there was a lot of interest from the community. This was noticed and appreciated by the Liberty Bell maintenance crew.

3 months after the airplane was flown back to its home base the airport manager in Urbana got a call from Reilly Aviation about the availability of  sections of old B-17 aircraft that could be used as a community project.  Was there an interest in Urbana?   Jerry Shiffer had an interest and with the cooperation of his family he decided to purchase the sections in the fall of 2005.






 Jerry was an experienced  pilot who flew regularly and as a business man he understood what it would take to built a B-17.       Money and volunteers.

In November of 2005 the first shipment arrived in Urbana but Jerry Shiffer was not there to see the arrival.  He died that day in an airplane crash.

 See the Blog about the sections purchased and parts acquired  for the project.wrecks

 B-17 fuselage arrived


The plan at the time,  was to restore the old sections to an airworthy condition, assemble them and build a flying B-17.

When the first of (3) large 18-wheeler trucks unloaded into a designated hangar at the Grimes Airport, Urbana, Ohio. It showed some interesting parts.  See pictures.


It became obvious that the original plan to restore the sections may not be feasible. 

Most parts and sections were cracked, bend or corroded and had to be made new. 

The “restoration project” of old parts became a “construction project” with mostly new parts.

To make new parts we required skilled, volunteer manpower.

 The Shiffer family continued with the project. They financed the project for many years.

When did the project start?

In January 4th of 2006 the project started.  

B-17projectstart 049

The skin (sheet metal covering the fuselage of the airplane) is removed to find out the condition of the fuselage’s structure. Do we repair or make a new structure???

Jan04_2006 044

Skin is removed from the front fuselage section.

It was a massive undertaking for people not familiar with aircraft building and not having sheet metal fabrication skills.

They all wanted to contribute to this unique and historical project. 

The early years volunteers who stayed with the project acquired the necessary skills over the years and are very important to the project. 

We are blessed with these volunteers who are working on the project and are donating their time.

Most of our volunteers who work on this 18-20 year project see it as a labor of love. They want to give something back to their community, others wanted to work on a Memorial for future generations to remind them of the sacrifices made in WWII.

To build a B-17 to airworthy standards and get a FAA certificate we obtained the necessary Boeing manufacturing drawings for a B-17G bomber.  The Smithsonian Museum sold us a complete set of microfiches.  These fiches were digitized and all drawing files stored in a large computer file.

The volunteers have access to these 25,000+ drawings via a couple of computer work stations.  


A  large plotter can plot a drawing to the scale required in a matter of minutes.

Do we get assistance or advise from the Boeing Co. in Seattle? There is no involvement with the Boeing Company.  Most museums and collectors working on B-17 restorations are in contact with each other and some exchange parts.


Where did plane’s name come from?

Sometime in the project the volunteers were given the opportunity to pick a name for the airplane.    They chose to name the airplane the “Champaign Lady” since the airplane is build in Champaign County.   The tail insignia displays a black triangle with a letter S.


The founder’s last name is Shiffer so the letter S is appropriate. The letter L is Jerry Shiffer’s wife,  her first name is Leah. 

The triangle with an S was the insignia of the 8th Air Force, 401 Bomber Group (H), 1st air Division, stationed in Deenethorpe, England during WWII.  When the members of the 401Bomb Group Association  learned of our project they adopted the airplane as a representative of their bomber group.

All the Blogs are in appreciation for the Project Volunteer’s work.

We have a number of different blogs dedicated to the “Champaign Lady”.


Project start in 2006.

Urbana B-17


B-17 Champlain Lady
Tail #485813

 We purchased initially, large sections and parts from (4) different B-17 aircraft. and wanted restore them. They were all from Douglas or Lockheed Vega B-17’s, dated early 1945.  Douglas and Vega (each) built approx. 3000 B-17’s.   Boeing built the remainder of the 12731 B-17s.


When the project was started in January of 2006 the schedule called for completion in 2015.   This was too optimistic it would be closer to 2023 for the plane to fly.


Modular lay out of a B-17

Before the project was started the plan was to restore old sections and parts of B-17’s we had purchased. When the project was underway it became clear that a lot of parts had to be re-made.  The parts we had bought were in bad shape. They were cracked and corroded in many places.

People of the US Air Force museum’s restoration department in Dayton who looked at the project told us it would not fly with these parts.

To fly the B-17, the whole plane had to be airworthy and made with good parts. So, start all over. 

                                                           Scan0033    The lay out shows the airplane broken down in sections.

   It is a sub-assembly breakdown of a basic  B-17.

Several sections we purchased were damaged beyond repair or restoration but could, somewhat, be used as reference when a new part was made from a Boeing drawing.  The sections we received were not all complete and there were many missing parts which we made directly from a factory drawing.

Reading and making a part from a 1941 Boeing Corp. drawing was for most volunteers quite a challenge.

The Champlain Lady has parts from 5 different B-17s.

… Plane  # 44-83316 built by Douglas as a B-17G-75-DL

… Plane  # 44-83525 built by Douglas as a B-17G-85-DL

… Plane  # 44-83722 built by Douglas as a B-17G-95-DL

… Plane  # 44-85813 built by Lockheed-Vega, a B-17G-110-VE

… Plane  # 44-85505 built by Lockheed-Vega (we  recovered parts     from this wreck in Alaska).


 What did we start with?

From which airplanes did the sections come?

 Each major section on the Sub-Assembly Breakdown above is numbered and will be listed below.

Plane  # 44-83316.      Items 46, 47, 48 ,  Aft Fuselage section.

The Ball Turret, Throttle Control Console and the Navigator’s Astrodome were purchased, later, at an auction.    They also came from 44-83316)

The picture below shows the rear fuselage of this airplane.   That is the section behind the wing stretching to the tail.



Brief history of 44-83316:

Built by Douglas (saw no action in WWII). Used by 20th Century Fox      studios in 1964 as a movie prop to film the TV Series “12 O’clock High”, sold to Black Hills Aviation in 1967, acquired by Fantasy of Flight owner Kermit Weeks in 1983 and put in storage.


Plane  # 44-83525.   Item 85, Vertical Stabilizer.  


Add Pictures>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>


 Brief history of 44-83525:

  Built by Douglas (saw no action in WWII). It was assigned to the 3205th Drone Group at Elgin AFB, FL.  Owned by Tallmanz Aviation, (Tallman & Mantz).

 The airplane appeared in WWII movies such as “McArthur” and  “Thousand Plane Raid”, painted as “Suzy Q” and       “Balls of Fire”.

Plane # 44-83722. Item 42, Forward fuselage section (cockpit and bomb bay) and items 12, Outer wings, Item 17, Wing tips and          item 33, Ailerons.


 Brief history of 44-83722:

Built by Douglas. (It saw no action in WWII). It was used as a Rescue airplane (a TB-17H), equipped with a lifeboat. ( Later used as a test object on the ground at the Yucca Flats in Nevada during an A-bomb test in the early 50’s.  The fuselage broke in the weakest part of the structure, the radio room. Later this wrecked airplane ended up with Kermit Weeks of the Fantasy of Flights Museum and put in storage.



Plane # 44-85813.    Item 11, Inner wings and item 36, Flaps.

 B-17 Test bed 44-85813

Brief history of 44-85813:

Built by Lockheed-Vega.(It saw no action in WWII). It was converted to a Curtiss-Wright engine test bed to test a 5000 Hp Turbo prop engine   Later restored to fly as a Fire-fighter Air Tanker. Working as an Air Tanker it crashed in 1980 at Bear Pen, NC.  It was salvaged and put in storage by Reilly Aviation.

Plane # 44-85505.   Item 62, Tail wheel retract mechanism. Brackets and tail section components for the horizontal stabilizer.   Navigator and Bombardier seats

 b-first hike to crash site (6)

  Brief history of 44-85505:

Build by Douglas.  (It saw no action in WWII). The airplane was stationed at the Elmerdorfer AFB, Anchorage, AK in the 1950’s, assigned to the 6th Radar Calibration Flight.             The airplane experienced an in-flight engine fire in July of 1951. It crash landed and burned, in a remote area 10 miles North of Talkeetna, AK.   The Champaign Aviation Museum’s volunteers recovered parts, 50 years later, from this wreck, with permission from the State of Alaska, in July of 2011.



















More will follow at this blog.


      Building a B-17 with Volunteers.

The  Museum’s volunteers are building a ” Memorial”, to remind our future generations of the sacrifices made by the US Army Air Force service men who participated in air battles during World War II.


What is volunteerism?

     It is doing something in the hope it will make a difference to  however small in  someone else’s life.

It is an opportunity to give something back to society. We volunteered to build an Army Air Force, WWII, “Memorial” which will fly when completed.

IMG_1617 - Copy

The project has been going on since January of 2006. Most of the volunteers are driving 15-50 miles.  They come from Urbana, Springfield, the greater Dayton area, Columbus, Delaware, Sidney etc. in Ohio. Some come from places more than 50 miles away.

Several of these volunteers who have been with the B-17 project, since the start, have worked thousands of hours on the airplane and they agree with the statement  below.

The project is a challenge.

Oct. 6 #2

 We thank  the volunteers for spending many hours on the project, especially the ones who are staying with it for years.


                                                                       Urbana front sign

 The Museum is supported by donations from private sources and businesses.  No government support. The workers are volunteers, who spend countless hours on the B-17 project.

             The Champaign Aviation Museum is a not for

                          profit 501 (c)(3) organization.


The volunteers  welcome all visitors to move freely through their work area and ask questions about the project and the work they are doing.  Many  of the volunteers have been working on the B-17 project for several years and are well informed about the project and the history of the airplane.


 Scroll down for more about the B-17.


This website is under development and information is added all the time about the history of this project.



Photo Gallery of Volunteers.

We are showing pictures of the volunteers who spend many hours on the project. Some of the  volunteers shown, over the years, have faded away, quit, passed away or moved out of the area. In any case we appreciate the time they spend on the project.  They have contributed to the project and will always be part of it.


Mike Pfarr


Dale Davis


Ed Generous
Jim Sokolik
Carl Billhardt
Bill Snapp
Bill Midgley
Jack Bailey


Dave LeMay, Radio Antenna Feed-System
Dave LeMay,
Gary Schreiber
Craig Maher
Norm Burmaster
Tom Printz
Randy Kemp,
Dave Cook
Rick Burdick.
Jeff Huber
Jim Kaupilla


Harry Yarwick
Gerry Arel
Bill Albers


Chuck Tosi




Bill Heater
Robert Buchwalter
Carole Buchwalter
Carole Buchwalter
Gerald Johns





Bill Weidenhamer
Mike Canone
Gene Jumper
Irv Bence


Fred Zerkle
Paul Good
Dick Bidlack







Jake Ulery


Steve Polsley 2
Steve Polsley
Fred Scholl
Fred Scholl

Radio Room.

How was it built?  Did we have a radio room to look at and copy? 

When we started the project we had no old radio room  structure to refer to.  We had drawings and … pictures we took from existing B-17G models  which are still flying around.  We studied the drawings and progressed slowly.

The Radio Room is installed between Bulkhead 5 and 6.

Bulkhead 5 is at the edge from the bomb bay structure, at the right hand side of the spacers on the mock-up, shown below.

             Bulk Head 6 ……Bulk Head 5…..Bomb Bay area

Concept of the radio room structure. The open section to the right of the spacers is the bomb bay area.
Bulk head 5.  The radio room will be attached to this bulk head.


May 2010 005
Start of the radio room construction.   A special frame had to be welded to support the radio room structure during  the initial  construction.  All the parts and pieces for the radio room were made in Urbana.    Note:  All the welded supports around the airplane are painted blue.  




In this picture the bulkheads 5a thru 5g are identified by the spacers.


The sheet metal skin is wrapped around the bulkheads.  Additional braces were added to support forward the forward assembly, these braces are attached the wing attachment brackets.   The blue support structure inside the radio room can then be removed.


Skin is wrapped around the radio room.  Radio room support structure is still in place.








Woodwork in the B-17

One would not expect wood in a B-17 bomber but there are several items.

Here are a number of items made by volunteers and they will be permanently installed in the airplane:

The floors in the radio room, bombardier/navigator section and aft fuselage.  Plus all the ammunition boxes, the radio mounting shelves, the radio operator and navigator tables and… 3 doors.  All the wood surfaces are protected with several coats of urethane.  During the assembly and fitting of the wooden floors the volunteer found that making the floors exactly per Boeing drawings does not guarantee a proper fit.

As the result of these discrepancies a couple of floors had to be re-made and carefully be fit in these irregular formed spaces.


Radio room 10
Seat and floor below the radio room, in the camera bay.
radio room 2
Radio Operator table. 


Aft-fuselage walkway
ve Polsley 6
Waist Gunner ammo box. Left side of the airplane.



B-17 woodwork 2
Waist Gunner ammo box. Right side of the airplane.





B-17 woodwork 4
Bombardier’s floor
B-17 woodwork 5
Navigator’s table.
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