The Hazen North Dakota Bomber

Rudy Froeschle from Hazen, North Dakota, was a B-17 driver with the Eighth Air Force in England during Word War II. After flying several missions bombing the Germans, he and his crew were unfortunately shot down and became a guest of the same ones he was bombing. Froeschle ended up in Stalag Luft III and played a small part in the movie made after the war (The Great Escape). Froeschle wasn’t portrayed in the movie but the trombone he had in camp was. Rudy had requested it though the International YMCA for a band they were putting together. The trombone was “borrowed” by other prisoners and was used as an important component of a still to make liquor. The trombone was depicted in the movie storyline.
After liberation and the end of the war, Rudy was receiving his military separation papers at Lacklund Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The servicemen were in a large hall. In one corner of the hall was a surplus administration desk. Rudy approached the desk and asked what he could get. He was able to get papers to purchase a Fairchild PT-26 for $600, used as a Canadian instrument trainer, a Stinson Reliant for $1200 – used to transport generals and other individuals of significance, and a B-17 for $350, which could only be used for monumental or educational purposes.
When Rudy got back to his home town of Hazen, he met with the school board and told them about the great deal they could get buying the B-17 for educational purposes. Rudy offered to fly it in for them. The school board decided to buy the bomber.
It took longer then expected for the paperwork to come together and Rudy was already in Chicago starting medical school so Lyle Benz of Hazen (also a WWII Vet pilot) offered to get the plane.
Lyle and his brother John went to Altus, Okla. to gas up and add oil to the B-17 engines that had been “pickled” at the end of the war, when they were placed in storage. Lyle removed the cowling from each of the four engines, and with John’s help pulled the plugs and cleaned them.
There was no radio equipment on the plane so they knew they would have to fly VFR. When they departed Altus, the weather bureau forecasted clear weather. After flying for a while, they ran into clouds and climbed above them. The weather ahead seemed to be getting worse with the clouds rising to 20,000 feet. The Benz brothers decided to turn around. The nearest airfield they sighted was at Perry, Okla. The brothers landed the B-17 and caught rides back to North Dakota to raise money for more gas and oil before going back for the Fortress. The #3 engine had lost a lot of oil so they had to fill it back up. After refueling the brothers took off for Dickinson before delivering it to Hazen.
When they arrived at Dickinson the #3 engine was smoking badly and the local police raced to the airport to make sure they were OK. They knew they would lose oil on the way, so they added more oil before heading to Hazen a few days later.
It was a calm day when the Benz brothers roared over Hazen and landed in a pasture just south of town. The ground was softer than expected and the plane’s wheels sunk in the sod and nosed over, bending the prop tips on the number 2 engine. The whole town had turned out to see the landing and a bunch of the high school boys were able to pull the bombers tail back down.
The plane sat in that spot for several years as kind of a memorial to WWII. Its not known if it ever was used for educational purposes but people would crawl through the plane and scavenged parts.
In 1951 several men came and started working on the plane. They took the #2 prop to Herman Mayer, the town blacksmith, and he did an excellent job pounding the blades back in shape.
One winter morning, when the ground was frozen and a 40 mile an hour wind was blowing from the northwest, these guys turned the plane into the wind, and with no one to witness it, flew away from Hazen.
About 5 years after the B-17 left Hazen, Rudy Froeschle was practicing medicine in Tioga. One day, he treated a pilot who had been in a plane accident while crop dusting…… turned out to be the man who flew the B-17 from Hazen. Rudy found out the plane had been delivered to a buyer in Florida who equipped it for aerial photography.
After several years it was sold to Canadian company who used it for aerial photography all over the world. It changed hands several times while in this capacity. In its next life (1971 to 1982) the B-17 was outfitted with slurry tanks and served as a fire bomber in South Dakota and New Mexico.
The bomber was retired and displayed at the Pima Air Museum in Arizona, 1982—1984. In 1984 it was purchased by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC and stored in an open hanger at the Dulles airport.
In 2011 the plane was donated to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler, Georgia. Extensive restoration was started and brought back to its original glory as the famous B-17, “City of Savannah”. It is now the center piece of the museum and considered the finest B-17 Fortress static display in the world.
Article from the Hazen Star, 13 Nov. 2008 by Chris Gessele. B-17 44-83814
Book, B17 Flying Fortress Restoration by Jerome McLaughlin