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Students excavate a B-17 aircraft crash site in France

Mesa, AZ, January 9, 2024 – Two years ago, Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) students studying forensic aviation archeology visited CAF Airbase Arizona in Mesa to learn more about the B-17 Flying Fortress. These students of Forensic Aviation Archeology were there to prepare for an important multi-year project to help recover the remains of U.S. aircrew lost in crash sites during World War II.

The U.S. Department of Defense estimates that approximately 79,000 out of the 81,000 American service personnel still unaccounted for from past conflicts are from World War II. For the past three years, students and faculty from Middle Tennessee State University have actively contributed to recovering answers for family members who have awaited information about their lost loved ones for decades.

The students recently concluded their first mission to excavate a B-17 aircraft crash site in France. The diverse field crew included Students, faculty, and alumni of Middle Tennessee State University, as well as international volunteers from France, Spain, Switzerland, and Austria, who joined the nine-week European excavation. The work was done in collaboration with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).

Early on, the program directors, MTSU Research Associate Professor Tiffany Saul, and co-director Adam Fracchia, realized that students needed to become familiar with the aircraft they would be working with. This is how the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Museum in Mesa, Arizona, got involved. Airbase Arizona is assigned and maintains Sentimental Journey, one of the few flightworthy B-17s.

The MTSU team went to the museum, explored the aircraft, and gained essential perspectives ahead of their fieldwork. Students also learned about the historical equipment used on the B-17 and typical flight crew uniforms and rations. CAF volunteers provided two days of tours and demonstrations. The visit concluded with a public event hosted by CAF, allowing the team to share more about MTSU’s project and its goals with the Mesa community.

This unique opportunity allowed MTSU students to gain insights into historic archaeology and use modern technology to help bring closure to the heroes lost while serving in World War II.

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