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”.


Author: walbers1

aircraft and sailing are my hobbies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s