Chevron-chartered helicopter threads it's way down the surging Mubi River in Papua New Guinea highlands

A Military Plane Was Lost In The Jungle For Decades Before It Was Found

Bomber planes played an important role in World War II. Designed for hitting targets below, these aircraft became the fastest and easiest military vehicles to maneuver and carry out a mission. During World War II, the U.S. manufactured an incredible 276,000 aircraft, of these, around 12,000 were shot down. Many went missing. One military plane lay in the jungle for decades before it was finally discovered.

A New Discovery In Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is known for having a lot of greenery. According to PNG Tours, about three-quarters of the country is covered by rainforest.

Chevron-chartered helicopter threads it's way down the surging Mubi River in Papua New Guinea highlands
George Steinmetz/Getty Images

Most of the area remains relatively untouched, but that all changed once a helicopter flew overhead. The men inside the helicopter knew they found something historic.

It Was A Mystery

As the helicopter flew closer to the ground, the men inside noticed a large, grey object amongst the plants in the jungle.

Montane Rainforest around Mt Hagen in Western Highlands
David Tipling/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Papua New Guinea has one of the most exotic rainforests in the world, so the foreign object really stood out. The men decided to land the plane to get a better view.

Watch Out For Crocodiles

As the men landed their helicopter, they noticed that they were right next to a crocodile-infested swamp. They decided to take a risk and get out to go look at the object.

A huge Nile crocodile in a swamp area
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Lying right in the middle of the swamp was an enormous military plane. Much to their surprise, it appeared to be in great shape.

What Was The Plane Doing There?

The men were able to figure out that this plane was in fact a World War II bomber that had been given the nickname “Swamp Ghost.”

men restoring swamp ghost

“It was widely considered that it was impossible to salvage this airplane,” said aviation archaeologist Fred Hagen. Swamp Ghost is actually a huge part of military aviation history.

Trying To Bring Swamp Ghost Home

One of the biggest questions people had about Swamp Ghost was why it was abandoned in Papua New Guinea. David Tallichet, Jr., a World War II veteran and entrepreneur, set out to answer that question.

flying fortress plane in the swamp
Pacific Wrecks/Facebook

Tallichet was an avid collector of World War II planes with an impressive collection of over 120. He set out to bring Swamp Ghost home.

Why Tallichet Connected To Swamp Ghost

Not only did Tallichet feel a kinship towards Swamp Ghost because he was a World War II veteran, but he had co-piloted the same kind of four-engine bomber in Papua New Guinea.

swamp ghost in a museum
Pacific Wrecks/Facebook

He spent many decades trying to salvage military planes from around the world. “It was our greatest dream because for some reason it captured the imagination of people from around the world,” said Tallichet.

What Kind Of Plane Was Swamp Ghost?

It was easy for Tallichet to figure out that Swamp Ghost was a U.S. Air Force B-17 E Flying Fortress.

man cleaning oil of b-17 bomber
Watchara Phomicinda/MediaNews Group/The Press-Enterprise via Getty Images

The plane got its name from a journalist who worked for the Seattle Times. He wrote about one in an article and said, “Why, it’s a flying fortress.” The name just happened to stick.

Swamp Ghost Was Quite Rare

Tallichet and Hagen had been salvaging World War II planes for several decades, so when they saw Swamp Ghost, they knew it was different from the rest.

swamp ghost on the ground in us
Pacific Aviation Museum/Wikimedia Commons

Both men couldn’t understand how the plane had been kept in such great condition after all these years. Also, Swamp Ghost was just one of four B-17Es that had been recovered since the war.

Swamp Ghost Stood Out

Swamp Ghost ended up being one of the most influential discoveries when it came to World War II bombers.

swamp ghost aircraft on the ground
Stonnmann/Wikimedia Commons

The Pacific Aviation Museum in Hawaii shared, “[It’s] arguably the world’s only intact and unretired World War II-era B-17E bomber. [It’s] a one-of-a-kind example of an aircraft that played an indispensable role in winning WWII…”

FDR’s Influence On The Military

One of the reasons why planes had significant advances during World War II was because of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He wanted to revolutionize bombers to make them more modern.

fdr smiling in black and white photo
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

His goal was to have these military vehicles be able to carry sizeable payloads and travel to remote military bases in places such as Alaska, Panama, and Hawaii.

B-17Es Were Essential During WWII

The B-17E was one of the most useful military vehicles during World War II and the aircraft became operational in September of 1941.

b-17 planes at an airshow
Edwin Remsberg/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

By the time the war reached the end, there were over 12,000 B-17 planes in use. A little over two-thirds of which were the final B-17G model.

Why Was Swamp Ghost Used In The War?

Swamp Ghost’s whereabouts had been a mystery for several years. It was later revealed that the bomber plane was supposed to fly into Pearl Harbor from San Francisco just one day before the Japanese attacked.

Aerial view of Pearl Harbor naval base
US Navy/Interim Archives/Getty Images

However, Swamp Ghost ended up not traveling with its squadron that day. Instead, it was a part of some of America’s earliest bombing missions of World War II.

How Swamp Ghost Got To Papua New Guinea

The Japanese ended up invading Rabaul, Papua New Guinea on January 23, 1942. This threatened Allied military bases in the area, including the United States.

A detachment of US Marines plough through knee-deep mud on their way to confront the Japanese on Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

About a month later, Swamp Ghost was supposed to be dispatched to bomb the Japanese ships in Rabaul’s harbor. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.

Problems Aboard The Plane

By the time the soldiers aboard Swamp Ghost were set to bomb the Japanese ships, they noticed that something was wrong. The bomb bay doors became stuck, so the soldiers couldn’t drop the bombs on time.

man walks through the B-17 bomber
Watchara Phomicinda/MediaNews Group/The Press-Enterprise via Getty Images

They managed to circle back and drop the bombs, but Japanese forces had seen them and started to retaliate.

Things Didn’t Look Good

The issue with the bomb bay doors led to a massive attack between U.S. and Japanese forces. The Flying Fortress was able to claim three out of 12 enemy fighters.

A view from the bombardier position inside a World War II B-17 Bomber
Watchara Phomicinda/MediaNews Group/The Press-Enterprise via Getty Images

Then, the port wing was punctured and the plane started to leak fuel. This meant that the crew aboard the aircraft would have to make an emergency landing.

Figuring Out Where To Land

The crew didn’t have much time to figure out where they were going to land. The fuel was leaking and their wing was damaged.

A view from the cockpit inside a World War II B-17 Bomber
Watchara Phomicinda/MediaNews Group/The Press-Enterprise via Getty Images

Finally, the pilot saw the Owen Stanley Mountains and believed he spotted a huge wheat field. He decided to land there but didn’t realize the wheat field was actually a 10-foot-high swamp.

Time To Land

The pilot was able to land Swamp Ghost in the swamp without any of the soldiers sustaining an injury. Now, the crew was stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Replica bombs are seen in a World War II B-17 Bomber
Watchara Phomicinda/MediaNews Group/The Press-Enterprise via Getty Images

These men needed to think on their feet about how to escape the swamp. They spent days wandering around in the hot sun without food and were being swarmed by mosquitos.

Getting To Safety

Since the men were surrounded by mosquitos, they ended up contracting malaria. Luckily, they found a native who took the soldiers to his village.

Crews take a break underneath a World War II B-17 bomber
Watchara Phomicinda/MediaNews Group/The Press-Enterprise via Getty Images

The soldiers were then nursed back to health and were able to find their way back to their base. Then, the men got dispatched to a new tour of duty.

Swamp Ghost Became Forgotten

After the World War II soldiers left the swamp, Swamp Ghost was abandoned for several decades. It wasn’t until Hagen flew over in a helicopter that it would be seen again.

swamp ghost plane
Andreas Küstermann/Pinterest

Swamp Ghost finished its restoration in 2006 and was brought to the United States four years later. The aircraft’s first public viewing was in Long Beach, California where guests included family members of the original crew.

Where Is Swamp Ghost Now?

Those who want to see Swamp Ghost for themselves can head over to the Pacific Aviation Museum in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The plane has been there since 2013.

swamp ghost in the swamp
War History Online/Pinterest

There are some plans for the museum to restore the bomber for over five million dollars, so it can be displayed on a hangar in Ford Island.

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