Photo by Ty Brown
History: The B-17, arguably World War II's
most famous heavy bomber, first flew on July 28, 1935, before a crowd of reporters eager
to see Boeing's new bomber take wing. It was dubbed the "Flying Fortress" by the
members of the press in attendance because of its (at least for the time) heavy defensive
armament. The prototype crashed in October, but because of its impressive speed and
handling the US Army Air Corps (USAAC) decided to continue testing anyway. They ordered 13
YB-17s for further evaluation, a decision that would prove
momentous in years to come.
The YB-17 had five machine guns, room for 4,800 pounds of bombs and a crew of nine. It had
electrically retractable landing gear. After testing the YB-17, an improved prototype, the
Y1B-17, was built with Wright Cyclone radial engines. Twelve
were delivered to the USAAC's 2nd Bombardment Group for trials. One of these was soon
equipped with new Moss/General Electric turbochargers that became standard on all future
Flying Fortresses. The first production order was for 39 B-17Bs
with turbo-charged engines, and as soon as these were under production another order for
the B-17C was placed, with seven machine guns instead of the
The RAF received their first B-17Cs in 1941, and were soon
conducting daylight raids over Germany. The defensive armament soon proved inadequate, and
the B-17's altitude was little defense against the German fighters. Orders for the B-17D
were soon placed with self-sealing fuel tanks and more armor because of lessons learned in
bombing missions over Europe. The B-17E and B-17F
soon followed with larger tail. The B-17F was the first to serve with the USAAF 8th Air
Force. After suffering staggering losses in late 1943, analysis proved head-on attacks by
enemy fighters were a distinct problem. The final major version, the B-17G,
added a chin turret with dual machineguns. This gave the B-17 a defensive armament of 13
After the war, several dozen B-17s lived on as fire-bombers
and aerial surveyors until the last one was retired in the 1970s. Today, a few B-17s have
been restored to their wartime splendor. Eleven are currently flying in the United States,
one in the UK and another one in France. [History by David MacGillivray]
Nicknames: Fort; The Flying Coffin (Nazi propaganda nickname)
Engines: Four 1,200-hp Wright R-1820-97 Cyclone turbocharged radial piston engines
Weight: Empty 36,135 lbs., Max
Takeoff 65,500 lbs.
Wing Span: 103ft. 9in.
Length: 74ft. 4in.
Height: 19ft. 1in.
Maximum Speed at
25,000 ft: 287 mph
miles with 6,000 lb. bomb load
(0.5-inch) machine guns
Up to 17,600
pounds of bombs
Number Built: ~12, 800+
Number Still Airworthy: 13
Flying Fortress photos ]
379th Bomb Group
Airworthy Flying Forts -- John Weeks' page about B-17 survivors.
Arizona Wing, CAF
Museum (Sentimental Journey), Mesa Arizona, USA.
B-17 Survivor List
The Bloody Hundredth -- Official Site of the
100th Bomb Group (Heavy).
Collings Foundation B-17
-- B-17E under restoration in Illinois, USA.
Flight Journal Magazine
B-17 Profile Page
The Liberty Foundation -- Restorers
and operators of "Liberty Belle" B-17G.
MaxAir2Air.com B-17 Profile -- Detail photos of B-17 "Sentimental
"Memphis Belle" 360-degree virtual reality cockpit photo
Queen of the Skies -- (In German)
"Sally-B" (The B-17
Charitable Trust, UK)
B-17, CAF Gulf Coast
Vintage Flying Museum
("Chuckie"), Ft. Worth, Texas, USA
A Mighty Fortress: Lead Bomber Over Europe
By Charles Alling
Hardcover, 216 pages
Published October 2002 by Casemate Publishing
A Mighty Fortress
is the intensely personal account of the Captain and crew of a lead
bomber in the enormous formation raids made by the 8th Air Force during
the last few months of the Second World War. It is an extraordinary tale
of heroism and bravery on the part of the entire crew of just one B-17
among hundreds -- but the one B-17 that meant most to them.
[ Click for more great books about
the B-17! ]
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