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Sept. 3, 1942: The Swoose, a B-17D that served in December 1941 in the Philippines, returns to Los Angeles after a 36-hour, 10-minute flight from Australia. This photo was published in the Sept. 4, 1942, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Sept. 3, 1942: Five of the seven-man crew pose with the Swoose. From left are Capt. Harry J. Schreiber, pilot; Lt. Marvin McAdams, navigator and co-pilot; Maj. Frank Kurtz, pilot; Sgt. Aubrey Fox, radioman; and Sgt. Rowland Boone, crew chief. This photo was published in the Sept. 4, 1942 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

March 1946: Capt. H.M. Varner next to the Swoose, a B-17D that served the entire war. The Swoose was at the old Kingman, Ariz., Army Airfield slated to be destroyed - but was saved and flown to Los Angeles as a possible war memorial. This photo was published in the April 1, 1946, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

April 6, 1946: Posing next to the Swoose after arrival in Los Angeles are, from left: Capt. Harold Varner, Capt. Rowland Boone, Maj. Harry Schreiber, Mrs. Frank Kurtz, Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron and Col. Frank Kurtz.. Col. Kurtz piloted the Swoose from Kingman, Ariz., to Los Angeles so the aircraft could be used as a war memorial. This photo was published in the April 7, 1946, Los Angeles Times. People inside the aircraft were not identified.

March 26, 1949: Saying goodby to the Swoose are, from left: Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron, Col. Frank Kurtz, Maj. Charles Reeves, Maj. Harry Schrieber, Capt. Harold Vaner and Capt. Ronald Boone. The city of Los Angeles gave up on war memorial plans and donated the Swoose to the Smithsonian. The aircraft was the only known World War II combat plane to see service from start to finish. This photo was published in the March 27, 1949, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

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The Swoose

Los Angeles once had the Swoose – the oldest B-17 in existence – as a possible war memorial.

But first a little history of the aircraft.  The Army Air Corps accepted the B-17D model in April 1941 at March Field, near Riverside. Originally named Ole Betsy, the aircraft participated in a mass flight to Hawaii, followed by a similar flight from Hawaii to the Philippines.

After Pearl Harbor, Ole Betsy flew combat missions in the Philippines and later in Indonesia. This National Museum of the U.S. Air Force webpage on the Swoose reports:

On Jan. 11, 1942, three Japanese fighters caused heavy damage to Ole Betsy — but lost two of their own in the process — during a running 35-minute engagement off the coast of Borneo. Maintenance personnel in Australia replaced the damaged tail with one from another B-17D, replaced the engines, and converted the aircraft into an armed transport. The new pilot, Capt. Weldon Smith, gave it a new nickname after a then-popular song about a half-swan, half-goose called the “Swoose.”

Capt. Frank Kurtz, a personal pilot for Lt. Gen. Geroge Brett, soon took over the Swoose and flew the general all over the South Pacific. One passenger was the future United States president – Lt. Cmdr. Lyndon B. Johnson.

Brett, the deputy commander of Allied Forces in Australia, had a falling out with his boss, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and was transferred to the Caribbean Defense Command. Kurtz and the Swoose came with Gen. Brett.

Once back stateside, the Swoose was used as Gen. Brett’s personal aircraft and for War Bond events.

On Sept. 3, 1942, Kurtz and the Swoose arrived in Los Angeles following a record 36-hour, 10-minute flight from Australia via Hawaii.  The crew was met by a Los Angeles Times photographer – photos in the above gallery.

Following the war, the Swoose was scheduled to be dismantled at the War Assets Administration facility near Kingman, Ariz. Col. Frank Kurtz convinced the city of Los Angeles to save the B-17D as a war memorial.

A story in the March 9, 1947, Los Angeles Times reported:

Her history began two months before the outbreak of war when she flew to the Philippines in a mass flight of new Fortresses.

In the ensuing desperate actions to halt the Jap, her sister ships were shot down or wrecked one by one, but the Swoose flew on, bullet-ridden, oil smeared.

Then, as a reward for valor, she was assigned to transport missions for high Army officers, and the 34 flags painted on her nose attest to her far-ranging flights to as many countries….

So, a year ago, when Mayor Bowron suggested the Swoose be placed in Exposition Park as a permanent war memorial to Los Angeles’ fighting men, living and dead, the City Council bought the famed old veteran for a token payment of $350.

She arrived last April with fitting fanfare and homage, a tired old veteran on her final flight. She was to become a symbol of American courage.

Yet there is no place for her, no building, no hanger space, and she stands alone….waiting…forgotten…

In 1949, the city of Los Angeles gave up and donated the Swoose to the Smithsonian Institution. On March 26, 1949, Col. Frank Kurtz once more took the controls for one last tour. The Times reported the Swoose departed Los Angeles Airport escorted by “a dozen National Guard (P-51) Mustangs.”

After years of sitting in storage, the Swoose in 2008 was transferred to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force for restoration and display.  This website Boeing B-17D the Swoose includes additional history and photos on the aircraft.

USC graduate and 1932 Olympics bronze medal winner Col. Frank Kurtz passed away in 1996. His Los Angeles Times obituary is online: Frank Kurt; World War II Aviation Hero.

1 Comment

  1. March 18, 2013, 7:53 am

    The daughter mentioned in Kurtz's obituary is none other than actress Swoosie Kurtz, who was named afte the aircraft!


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