World War II’s Most Venerable Bomber

Flak-Bait made history on April 17, 1945, when it became the only American bomber to fly 200 missions. (NASM)

There are many fascinating stories about World War II. Smithsonian Magazine has just told another one — the Mitchell B-26B Marauder medium bomber that survived more than 200 missions, an amazing total in wartime. The only bomber to fly more missions was an RAF de Havilland B Mk IX Mosquito, F for Freddie, which was credited with 213 times over enemy territory, and unfortunately crashed during a war-bond tour in Canada on May, 9, 1945,

“Survived” is the correct word. This bomber, appropriately nickname Flak-Bait, was shot up so many times it was a wonder it still flew. By the end of the war, its fuselage was a quiltwork of more than 1,000 patches, some as large as 16 inches, that covered holes from enemy fire. Twice, the plane returned on only one of its two engines and other times had damage to the hydraulics, vertical stabilizer and other key systems.

Verifying the exact total of missions did require some research. Government records showed the plane had actually flown 219 missions. However, several flights were never completed because of bad weather or mechanical problems. The final arbiter was the collection of stencils on the fuselage, showing 200 bombs (bombing missions), six ducks (decoy missions), and a swastika (a German fighter plane shot down).

Today this historic aircraft is undergoing preservation in the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. “We are preserving, not restoring, this great plane,” says Jeremy Kinney, curator in the Aeronautics Department at the museum. “We’re cleaning and stopping any corrosion. Much of the aircraft had been kept in crates since the end of World War II, so there’s a lot of work to do.” The project is expected to be finished by 2025.

Taken from “This World War II Bomber Took More Enemy Fire Than Most Others and Always Came Home” by David Kindy (

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