The Mystery of the B-24 Named "Michigan"

Submitted by MGoShoe on March 25th, 2013 at 11:03 AM

We love our Michigan history here at MGoBlog and this gem featured by the Alumni Association is especially cool.

It’s a curiosity: a B-24 Liberator bomber named “Michigan” with a picture of Michigan Stadium painted on its nose (along with a cheesecake photo of a leggy woman wearing a garrison cap). The Yankee Air Museum in Belleville, Michigan, has a research project under way to learn about the bomber. The museum knows the following:

  • Type/Model: B-24J-161-CO Tail number: 44-40429
  • Built by: Consolidated Aviation
  • Built at: Consolidated plant in San Diego, California
  • Maiden flight: March 31, 1944
  • Delivery date: April 4, 1944
  • Assigned to: 5th Army Air Force, 43rd Bombardment Group (Ie Shima), 64th Bomb Squadron (Clark Field, Luzon, Philippines)
  • Nose art artist: S/Sgt. Sarkis E. Bartigian (usually misspelled as Bartigan)

The Yankee Air Museum is seeking information from anyone who might know something about the backstory of this aircraft and how it came to feature this Michigan Stadium scene. If you unearth something, email [email protected] and they will share it with the museum.


After some basic Google-sleuthing, it turns out that S/Sgt Bartigian was an especially famous nose art artist. He was from Massachusets, so he's not the link. Here's a representation of one of his most famous works, "The Dragon and His Tail". It is glorious. The painting is "Milk Run to Kyushu" by Jack Fellows.

...described by some as the "greatest painter of nose art of all time" and by others as "the Michelangelo of WWII aviation art.". His imagination and skill with paint was certainly exceptional and he was perhaps unique in seeing the side, indeed the whole, of a B24 as his potential "canvas." Working during the closing months of the war and in the isolation of the vast Pacific Ocean enabled his imagination to run wild. His creations stretched the entire length of the aircraft in some cases, from nose turret to tail gunner's position. They were enormous works of art which would have stretched any artist working under ideal conditions let alone the windy, sand-strewn wastes of the barren airfield on Ie Shima. It is reputed that his amazing "Dragon and His Tail" was the last B24 to be scrapped at the reclamation plant -- the workers there could hardly bear to chop her up and hoped, right up to the final minutes, that a buyer could be found to save her...

"The Dragon" was indeed scrapped, but the artwork has been reproduced on a B-24J. See this link for more including photos of the reproduction and a photo of the original as it sat in the boneyard prior to being broken up for scrap.



March 25th, 2013 at 11:18 AM ^

Dave Brandon had a class project due for his kindergarten studies.  He did his project on exposure for target market demographics.

Mystery solved.


March 25th, 2013 at 11:31 AM ^

one of the coolest things that I've ever seen on this blog.  I know absolutely nothing about it, but that's by far one of the awesomest things.  The art is incredible! 

The only insight that I can provide here is that the B-24 Liberator was designed in San Diego, but was primarily manufactured in Michigan.  From the Wikipedia: 

Production of B-24s increased at an astonishing rate throughout 1942 and 1943. Consolidated Aircraft tripled the size of its plant in San Diego and built a large new plant outside Fort Worth, Texas. More B-24s were built by Douglas Aircraft in Tulsa, Oklahoma. North American Aviation built a plant in Dallas, Texas, which produced B-24Gs and B-24Js. None of these were minor operations, but they were dwarfed by the vast new purpose-built factory constructed by the Ford Motor Company at Willow Run near Detroit, Michigan. Ford broke ground on Willow Run in the spring of 1941, with the first plane coming off the line in October 1942. It had the largest assembly line in the world (3,500,000 ft²/330,000 m²). At its peak, the Willow Run plant produced 650 B-24s per month in 1944. By 1945, Ford made 70% of all B-24s in two nine-hour shifts. Pilots and crews slept on 1,300 cots at Willow Run waiting for their B-24s to roll off the assembly line. At Willow Run, Ford produced half of 18,000 total B-24s.

March 25th, 2013 at 1:44 PM ^

If you're interested in this type of history, there is a good book called "Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II" by Arthur Herman that contains lots of info about the Willow Run plant.

The book is a great read, and has many fascinating stories about the business behind the war effort.  I think towards the end his own agenda and opinions start breaking through the story, but overall a good effort.  


March 25th, 2013 at 11:38 AM ^

As a retired AF officer and pilot, I love this type of stuff.  Aviation history and such was discussed a lot at the Academy and a way to keep freshmen interested in the stuff they were forced to memorize.

One idea, the aviation museum at Wright Patterson AFB in, I hate to say it...ohio...near Dayton, could be a great source of information. 

Edit:  And after a little searching, I stumbled across this site.  YOU TOO can own a diecast model of the B-24 Liberator "Michigan."  There's even a color picture of the nose art replicated on the site.


March 25th, 2013 at 11:36 AM ^

How cool would it be for that to fly over the Big House?
Wasn't there an article about how UM isn't going to do flyovers for games anymore? I thought I read it was really expensive. I see articles for sporting events but nothing specifically about Michigan.


March 25th, 2013 at 11:41 AM ^

You may be referring to the AF suspending flyovers as a part of their training hours, but that wouldn't apply to this aircraft since the Yankee Air Museum is not affiliated with military funding if I'm not mistaken.  Most of these WWII aircraft are owned by private organizations.


March 25th, 2013 at 11:47 AM ^

...doesn't exist anymore. The Yankee Air Museum at Willow Run Airport has several WWII aircraft and has done flyovers at Michigan Stadium in the past. With the DoD suspending flyovers due to budget cuts, I'd expect that 1000SSS will be all over getting them to perform again this year.


March 25th, 2013 at 11:44 AM ^

If you search the tail number and B-24, you eventually find a copy of a newsletter written presumably by the surviving members (well, as of early 1994, when this was typed) of the 43rd Bomb Group - apparently, they have / had their own association. 

Roughly halfway through the newsletter, this same question is posed to the group and makes reference to the Yankee Air Museum and a name and number (both are long outmoded, of course). I find it fascinating that this is almost a 20-year old mystery in that sense. 

This is awesome stuff, MGoShoe - thanks for posting it! Hopefully, the answer is out there. 

Clarence Boddicker

March 25th, 2013 at 11:49 AM ^

But if you look at the position of the "leggy woman," who is in the act of leaning so she's on her hands and knees, the smile on her face, and the position of that banner (fortuitous breeze, or just happy to see her?), well...that image is just filthy dirty. In a good way...


March 25th, 2013 at 12:24 PM ^

Have an old book about B-24's in combat and there isn't much more in that about this aircraft then what is captured (model, artist, group/squadron etc).  Do know that the B-24 had some pretty loud nose art throughout the war in part because of the large flat sided nature of the fuselage (as compared to a rounded cross section on a 17 or 29). Would be incredible if the Yankee Air Museum did this up if they have a B-24.  I know they have a 17 and 25. 

M Fanfare

March 25th, 2013 at 12:41 PM ^

The Yankee Air Museum has been looking for a B-24 built at Willow Run to add to their collection for years. Maybe if they find one, they could put this nose art on it.

M Fanfare

March 25th, 2013 at 12:41 PM ^

The way to find out where the connection is/was would be a long and painstaking process. Nose art was generally the decision of the command pilot since it was "his" aircraft, sometimes with the consent of the crew. For instance, the famous B-17 "Memphis Belle" was named for the command pilot's girlfriend, even though there were 9 other men on the crew as well.

The article says the aircraft was delivered on April 4, 1944. From that point onward is the point at which the nose art would have been painted on. Now comes the tedious bit.  Unless you could unearth an aircraft assignment log from the 64th Bomb Group, the best way to figure out who put this art on his plane would be to cross-reference a roster of the members of the 64th Bomb Squadron (likely a list of command pilots, but possibly other crew as well) with a list of Michigan students and alumni who were in the USAAF between April 4, 1944 and the end of the war.


March 25th, 2013 at 1:47 PM ^

I build models of aircraft and race cars as my hobby and belong to several internet forums for several years. There's guys on these that have forgotten more things about aircraft than most of us will ever know. I linked the alumni article there and will see if anyone knows anything about it. I figure if the museum has been working on it this long then the info is sadly lost for all time. The records dept suffered a fire many years ago and sadly a lot of service records from WWII were lost. With no backups unless you have someone who was there or may have something in their collection it's hard to piece things together. Also sadly those who lived through this are becoming more scarce every day :(.

Maybe someone will know something. If the 43rd has a group then there is probably some form of historian associated with them. Just need to find the right person.



Unfiltered Manball

March 25th, 2013 at 5:54 PM ^

great story and pictures.  My grandfather was a tail gunner on a B-24 during WWII.  By the time he turned 19, he had flown over 50 missions over Europe.  He's been gone over 30 years now.  Sure miss him.

Does anyone know of a website or location I could do some research on what planes he flew in or what men he served with?  Haven't had much luck getting info on this.  Thanks.


March 25th, 2013 at 6:24 PM ^

Do you know what bomb group he was in? If you do start searching that group on google. Most groups have some form of association on the web. Or you can go on army air forces forums and find the appropriate page for his group or squadron and browse there. They are very helpful.

so bored at work

March 27th, 2013 at 1:16 PM ^

Was talking to my dad last night and he mentioned that he had gone to the Palm Springs Air Museum and was able to find out a lot about a friend's father who had flown on bombers in WWII.  I'm not sure if it was through someone who worked there or just a chance encounter, but if there are any airplane-related museums near you, it might be a good place to try. Even if you don't have any luck, it's not a bad way for an 11 year-old and his dad to spend an afternoon (speaking as a former 11 year-old).