It’s not unusual for organizations to sell cookies or crafts as to raise money — but a World War II B-17 Flying Fortress bomber?
It’s not unusual for organizations to sell cookies or crafts as fundraisers. But a World War II B-17 Flying Fortress bomber? It all started in 1945, when the Redwood Falls Junior Chamber of Commerce (“Jaycees” for short) put on a really great show for the Fourth of July. How could they top it in 1946? At the May 8, 1946 meeting of the Jaycees, the idea of buying the bomber was approved by the group. But buying a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber? One of those four-engined monsters that flew a thousand plane raids over Europe? A B-17? Really? As it happened, it was a much more practical idea than it now appears. The U.S. government had thousands of surplus airplanes just sitting around after the war, and nothing to do with them. Then someone had the bright idea to sell the bombers to schools, cheap, to use for fundraising efforts. The Redwood Falls Junior Jaycees voted to buy one of the quarter-million dollar B-17 bombers for the bargain basement price of $350, plus $500 in moving expenses. After being put on display for the Fourth of July celebration, the Jaycees could donate it to Redwood Falls High School to somehow or other make money from. Cutting down on costs was the fact that a flight crew could quickly be put together from Redwood area men with combat experience. Kenneth Clark, the volunteer pilot, had flown 42 combat missions in B-17s and B-24s when he was stationed in England during WWII. Co-pilot D.R. Duea flew 80 missions while stationed in Italy, France, and Germany. The rest of the seven-man crew was made of other local men with similar experiences during the war. Arrangements were quickly made with the Army to buy a Flying Fortress and fly it from where it was based at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. On Wednesday, May 22, most of the volunteer flight crew flew down to Arkansas, where they discovered they bomber they had bought wasn’t in the good shape they had been promised. Clark and Duea quickly picked out a second B-17 instead, and waited for the rest of the crew to arrive from Redwood Falls. The chosen B-17 weighed 17 and a half tons, had four 1,200 horsepower engines, and was 74 feet long with a 104 foot wingspan. After several days delay due to rain, the Flying Fortress arrived at the Redwood airport (then known as “Redwood Airways”) on Sunday, May 26. Hundreds of area residents turned out to see the B-17 arrive. Finally, at about 1:25 p.m. the bomber made several low runs over Redwood Falls, circled the airfield, and landed, using less than 1,000 feet of the airfield’s 3,000 foot runway. Local groups — including a new teen boy group called the Air Scouts — were able to tour the plane for the next few weeks. On Friday, June 28, the Jaycees moved the B-17 from the airport parking lot to the RFHS athletic fields on E. 2nd Street, to approximately where the Memorial Field tennis courts are today. Even with the wing tips removed for easier travel, the wings extended well over the shoulders of Highway 19. As it happened, the day the Jaycees tugged the plane to the athletic field featured one of the worst downpours of the year. The plane had to be dried out and the engines turned on to warm them up afterward. On Friday, July 19, the plane was moved from the athletic field to the Redwood County fairgrounds where it could be displayed during the annual fair. Once it was parked at the fairgrounds, ownership of the Flying Fortress officially changed hands from the Jaycees to Redwood Falls High School. Eventually, to raise money for band uniforms, the high school sold the bomber to a gas station in another state for use as a roadside attraction. According to the late Gary Revier, town historian, the gas station owner ended up selling the B-17 to the South Korean army, where it was reconditioned and used to fight the North Koreans. What eventually happened to the plane, no one today seems to know. So the next time you’re planning a fundraiser and someone says “Oh, let’s be creative”, remember a precedent has been set in Redwood Falls.