A Jungle Trek Recovers a Lost World War II Bomber

David Tallichet was known as the father of the themed-restaurant business. In 1985 he formed the Specialty Restaurants Corporation, a destination-restaurant business. His first location was a Polynesian-themed Reef in Long Beach, California. This started a craze for tropical themed restaurants in California. But Tallichet had other passions.

A World War II Veteran

David Tallichet

Like other men of his generation, Tallichet served during World War II. He was a co-pilot on a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and his crew became part of the 350th Bombardment Squadron, which was based at the Royal Air Force station Thorpe Abbotts. The crew flew over 20 missions, piloting a plane called Spirit of Pittwood. After the war, Tallichet flew many kinds of transportation craft on missions to help Europeans living through the aftermath of the war. Tallichet remained on active reserve with the Air Force until 1957.

Restaurant Pioneer

Tallichet founded Specialty Restaurant Corporation

Although Tallichet had a successful career in business, he never forgot about his passion for flying, nor his experiences during wartime. He channeled his interest in flight into collecting aircraft and military replicas.

Hollywood Calling

Tallichet supplied historic aircraft for the movie Memphis Belle

Eventually, Tallichet started a new company which leased his replica aircraft to the movie industry. His aircraft were used in movies such as Pearl Harbor and Memphis Belle. His collection eventually numbered 120 aircraft.

Into the Jungle

Tallichet traveled to remote Papua New Guinea in the Pacific on a rescue mission

Tallichet also had a thirst for adventure. He decided he wanted to track down old planes and bring them back to life, even if doing so sent him into dangerous territory. That’s how Tallichet and his friends wound up trekking through remote swamps in Papua New Guinea, one of the most underdeveloped regions in the world.

Tallichet and his team journeyed to the heart of the Papua New Guinea swamplands. Although they were confident in their expertise, the team had no idea exactly what exciting discoveries lay ahead. When they found their dream aircraft, they were amazed at its condition.

Spirit of Pittwood

The Spirit of Pittwood, a World War II bomber

The story of the Spirit of Pittwood began in 1942, when World War II was raging. U.S. Army Air Corps Captain Fred Eaton and Henry Maynard Harlow were commissioned for a secret mission. The two men were to fly from Australia right into the heart of the enemy at the Japanese Fortress at Rabaul in New Britain. When things took a turn for the worse, the men had to think quickly.

Emergency Landing

U.S. Army Pacific commander Gen. Vincent K. Brooks visits the recovered bomber

They were nearly out of escape options so they drove their airplane  right into the middle of the jungle. The men and their seven-member crew survived the rough landing, but they had few resources and were in the heart of hostile territory. The men were forced to abandon their aircraft, a bullet-riddled U.S. B-17E bomber. They started a long trek back to safe territory. This grueling hike lasted six weeks. The men battled extreme heat, exhaustion, dehydration and malaria.

Jungle Trek

Two pilots and nine crew survived a crash in this jungle, but had to leave their airplane

The pilots and their crew made it home and continued to serve in the war. Eventually, they forgot about their lost plane which was stuck in inaccessible swamp. Little did they know, the airplane would perfectly preserved, thanks to the swamp.

Ghost Ship in the Jungle

The plane had been buried in the jungle for decades

The old aircraft sat in the swamp for many decades until Tallichet and crew found it.  They were amazed that was still mostly intact, making it the only known WWII-era B-17E bomber that was completely preserved. But Tallichet would need more resources to remove the plane and so he went home to plot his next course of action.

Daring Rescue

The rescue team and their airplane were extracted from the jungle by helicopter

On their second trip, Tallichet and the team carefully disassembled the plane and flew the pieces by helicopter to a boat that was waiting nearby.  It was not all smooth sailing. The team dropped one of the plane’s wing as it hadn’t been secured properly. This could have led to a greater disaster, but Tallichet and his team recovered the piece before sailing to Pearl Harbor.

 The Intact WWII Bomber

The restoration team

Throughout his career in the restaurant business, Tallichet incorporated the sights and sounds of the South Pacific into the restaurants. But Tallichet, who died in 2007,  considered locating and restoring his South Pacific ‘ghost ship’ to be one of his greatest achievements.

Pacific Aviation Museum

The airplane is now at the Pacific Aviation Museum

The Ghost Ship is now on display at the Pacific Aviation Museum in Pearl Harbor.

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