Black Jack's Last Mission

Letter From Steve Birdsall

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In 1986 Rod Pearce found a B-17 Flying Fortress in deep water off the coast of Papua New Guinea. It was quickly identified as 41-24521 of the 43rd Bomb Group, a B-17 nicknamed Black Jack that had been lost returning from a mission on July 11, 1943. Thankfully, the crew survived and were rescued and the war and the world moved on.

I first wrote about Black Jack and her remarkable war record with the legendary pilot Ken McCullar back in 1973. I never dreamed that she was still lying up there in the water, totally intact.


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Black Jack’s story really began in July 1942 when 41-24521 rolled off the Boeing assembly line in Seattle. She was one of a series of 300 early B-17Fs, and only three of them exist today: the Memphis Belle, now undergoing restoration at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, Meltin' Pot, in the cold gray depths of Lough Foyle, Northern Ireland and Black Jack, lying deep in the warm waters off Papua New Guinea. They are all historical treasures, reminders of a time we will never see again.

In 1987 I had the privilege of going back to remote New Guinea with Ralph De Loach, the pilot who had ditched Black Jack all those years ago. We took a film crew with us and cameraman Russell Galloway created a magnificent pictorial record on 16mm film of the old B-17 in the water and Ralph De Loach's reunion with his rescuers.
That film was completed and shown on television 20 years ago but now, thanks to Justin Taylan of Pacific Ghosts, I have the privilege of introducing it to you, digitally re-mastered and enhanced for DVD.
In addition to the film, we’re honored to be able to include Justin Taylan’s interview with George Prezioso, the radio operator and probably last surviving Black Jack crew member. Justin took him to visit the Collings Foundation B-17G Nine-O-Nine in September 2008 and you’ll share his obvious delight as he climbs aboard a B-17 again.
It's been a long time, but it's good to know that Black Jack is still around. I hope you enjoy sharing the experience of Black Jack's Last Mission. Feel free to contact me, and enjoy the new DVD.
Steve Birdsall
Author, Flying Buccaneers: The Illustrated Story of Kenney’s Fifth Air Force
(Doubleday, New York, 1975)

"Black Jack's Last Mission" DVD available from
Pacific Ghosts
The Crew
The Film
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