The Desert Rat

The aircraft that would become known as the “Desert Rat” left the Boeing plant in Seattle, Washington as 203rd B-17 constructed at that plant and bearing the serial number 41-2595.  It was accepted by the USAAF on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1942.  The aircraft was not, however, destined for combat.  It was assigned to various training and test squadrons through 1942 in Sarasota FL, Ogden UT, Walla Walla WA, and Rapid City SD.  In March of 1943 the aircraft was assigned to Wright Field in Dayton OH for further testing of engine components on the Wright F-1820 engines. 

In August of 1943 the aircraft was the second B-17E assigned to the “C-108” program which was a project to convert B-17 airframes to a cargo configuration.  After undergoing this transformation, which included stripping armor and armament, relocation of some of the crew positions, and fitting a large, upward hinging cargo door in the left of the fuselage behind the wing, the aircraft was designated as type XC-108A indicating its conversion to a cargo airframe.  After initial testing the aircraft was assigned to operational testing in India, flying the hump, to deliver men and equipment into China.  After some initial, and persistent, engine problems, the aircraft departed in March of 1944 for India via the Caribbean, South America, and Africa.  The engine problems continued, including an in-flight engine fire over the jungles of Brazil.  The engine problems and other continuing problems resulted in the ferry flight dragging out until sometime in May or Jun.

Records of the aircraft’s use in India are missing but we do know that it came back to Bangor, MA via the north Atlantic ferry route arriving on October, 18 of 1944 and used as a transport to Greenland, Newfoundland, and the northeastern U.S.  It’s last operational flight was in December of 1945 before it was designated as scrap at Dow Field near Bangor.  At this time, a local auto junk dealer successfully bid on the airframe for salvage.  Salvage efforts apparently proved to be too strenuous and most of the airframe remained intact although suffering some serious damage from attempts to dismantle and scrap the plane and it was left to be overcome by vegetation as it sat in the back of the scrapyard.  Over time some scavengers were able to carry off some of the parts and do more damage to the remaining parts, but it really sat untouched for the next 40 years. 

So how did this aircraft become the “Desert Rat”?  Read on…….