Completed by Vega on 8 May 1945 with the Serial #: 44-85718, the LSFM aircraft was accepted by the USAAF two days later. A ferry crew then flew the gleaming bomber from Burbank to Louisville, Kentucky. The plane arrived at this Lockheed combat modification facility on 13 May and remained at that location for two months while all the latest updates were fitted. However, there was no need for the bomber at this time and it was flown to storage at Syracuse on 6 July. On 12 October 1945, the USAAF declared the hundreds of Forts at Syracuse to be excess to needs and the planes were turned over to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) which was the institution assigned with the responsibility of disposing of America's vast fleet of wartime equipment. Many of the Forts were then flown to Altus, Oklahoma, including 5718 which arrived at that location on 21 November 1945. Altus Army Air Field came into being on 16 January 1943 and it operated as an advanced flying school. When the last class graduated in April 1945, over 5200 pilots had been trained in the strange-looking Curtiss AT-9. With its training mission over, Altus was transferred to the Air Technical Service Command and made ready for the storage of surplus military aircraft. Soon, the field was packed with B-17s and B-25s but also included B-24s, P-38s, P-40s, P-47s, and P-51s. During early 1946, over 2600 aircraft were parked at Altus. One of the most famous aircraft in storage was combat veteran B-17F Memphis Belle. All the aircraft were available for purchase but, unfortunately, there were few purchasers. On 12 May 1947, a sealed bid sale was conducted for aircraft at the field and Esperado Mining Company of Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, won. By May 1948, all the remaining aircraft at the field had been scrapped.
However, a few did escape. Agents from IGN arrived at Altus and inspected the stored B-17Gs. They selected four virtually new aircraft for purchase including 5718 (the other three were 44-85643, 44-85733, and 44-83729). Amazingly, these aircraft were sold completely stock and the only missing items were the .50-cal machine guns! French civil registrations were applied to the aircraft and 5718 became F-BEEC. After a careful inspection and replacement of any items that were considered non-airworthy, the former bombers were flown to France. At Villacoublay, the planes were modified for their new life with IGN and this included stripping out the majority of military equipment and adding camera mounts, ports, magnetometers, etc. JGN would go on to purchase a rather incredible total of 14 B-17Gs, 13 of which were operational while the 14th was used for spares.
It was not long before F-BEEG was plying the world's airways on a variety of mapping assignments. When F-BEEC operated in South Africa for one year in 1965 and 1966, it received the South African civil registration ZS-EEC before reverting to its French marks. Growing a bit tired, JGN retired its fleet of Forts and F-BEEC was sold on 12 June 1984 to well-known British Warbird collector Doug Arnold. Registered GFORT, the plane was flown to Arnold's base of operations at Blackbushe. However, he did not retain the aircraft overly long and the bomber was sold to Stephen Grey's Patina Ltd. in 1986.
At this time, several American collectors were expressing interest in the former bomber but it was Robert Waltrip who stepped up and purchased the B-17G on 9 June 1987. Now all that remained was to get the aircraft back to Waltrip's home base at Houston Hobby Airport in Texas! Lots of work had to be done to the machine for its transatlantic trip. The aircraft was flown to Duxford where it was prepared for its mission. Assigned the US civil registration N900RW, a decision was made to paint the bomber as s/n 4238050 - a B-17G that flew with the 303rd Bomb Group, 359th Bomb Squadron, as Thunderbird. This was a historic machine that had successfully completed 112 combat missions.
Finally, the big day came on 14 July 1987 when N900RW departed Duxford for its trip to Texas. There was a nine man crew aboard including Gene Girman who had flown as a radio operator on the original Thunderbird (official records indicate that 538 crewmen flew on the plane during its 134 recorded flights which include the 112 combat missions). The crew followed the wartime ferry route through Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland. Everything went pretty smoothly and the weather remained good although everyone inside the bomber became quite cold. On 15 July, the bomber touched down at Nashua, New Hampshire. At this location, Vice President George Bush boarded the B-17 and was photographed in the cockpit. The aircraft arrived at its new home on 16 July. Waltrip had been busy acquiring other historic aircraft that would become the basis for his Lone Star Flight Museum.
Director Jim Fausz had the bomber grounded upon arrival and it was towed into a large hangar where it was completely disassembled. Jim and his crew wanted to replace everything that needed replacing and then make sure the airframe was completely free of corrosion so that the Fort would be a long-term flyer. Jim was very pleased with what he found and corrosion was at a minimum. Four new overhauled engines were fitted while fuel, electric, and hydraulic systems were removed, replaced or overhauled. The bomb hay was made operational and Jim scoured the country for original turrets. The turrets were found and restored and a "stinger" style tail turret was installed in place of the Cheyenne turret with which the plane was originally delivered. On 1.3 November 1990, the B-17 was ferried gear down from Houston Hobby to its new home at the splendid Lone Star Flight Museum at Scholes Field, Galveston, Texas, where the remainder of the restoration work was undertaken.
The aircraft became fully operational in 1991 and has become a very popular feature on the airshow circuit. However, additional work has been carried out on the aircraft over the years and more original military bits and pieces have been added. During 2003/2004 a great deal of work was carried out on the plane. Raytheon had volunteered to paint the bomber while Sherwin-Williams donated the paint and the B 17 undergone a complete IRAN inspection and rebuilding of many components. More than 27,000 man-hours were spent on that rebuild and thanks to that good work, the aircraft is very, very solid. Some years ago when the Feds issued the AD (Airworthiness Directive) on the wing spars of the various B 17 flyable in the world, LSFM performed the AD and did not discover any cracks, only some bolts and that was a real pain. LSFM has a fairly constant demand to present B 17G Thunderbird at airshows across the country and normally flies the plane between 80 to 100-hrs per year.