|B-17 Shoo Shoo Baby of
the US Air Force Museum, Dayton OH|
World War II airplanes have captured the imagination like the Boeing B-17 Flying
Springtime means the B-17s are on tour! Several organizations have beautifully restored B-17s that tour the country. For years, I've enjoyed walking through these planes, and last year I had the awesome privilege of flying in the Experimental Aircraft Association's Aluminum Overcast.
You can read about my flight and watch a video here
. If you'd like to see one of these gorgeous planes up close, please see the tour schedule for The Experimental Aircraft Association
and The Collings Foundation.
Over the next two weeks, I'll feature the legendary Flying
Fortress - a starring side character in my novels. Today I'll talk about the
plane and next week about the crew.
In 1935, the US Army
called for a multi-engine, long-range, high-altitude heavy bomber. On July 17,
1935, Boeing introduced Model 299, which made its maiden flight on July 28,
exceeding Army specifications. With plenty of machine guns, it was dubbed the
"Flying Fortress" by a reporter. Although Model 299 crashed on an early flight,
Boeing received a contract to develop the YB-17 in 1936.
were made with each successive model - the B-17B in October 1939, the B-17C in
July 1940, and the B-17D in February 1941. The C and D models were involved in
America's entry into World War II - shot up on the ground in Hawaii and the
Philippines and flying early bombing missions. Since a squadron of twelve B-17Ds
was expected in Pearl Harbor early on December 7, 1941, when radar showed the
approaching Japanese planes, the officer in charge dismissed the warning. Read the story here
The B-17E rolled out in September 1941, the first
model to sport the distinctive bell-shaped vertical stabilizer (tail fin). This
model was used in the Eighth Air Force's first combat missions over
Nazi-occupied Europe in late 1942. Further refinements led to the F model in
August 1942. One of the most famous B-17Fs was the Memphis Belle, the
first plane and crew to finish 25 missions in Europe.
Since no one
expected dangerous head-on fighter attacks, the F model had weaker .30 caliber
guns in the nose rather than the .50 caliber guns used in the rest of the plane.
In addtion, the nose guns could not be trained to twelve o'clock. The Luftwaffe
quickly discovered this deficiency and adopted head-on attacks with devastating
results to the Eighth Air Force. Desperation and ingenuity led airmen to shatter
holes in the nose of the plane and suspend a .50 caliber gun with racks
and retractable cords. Later B-17Fs incorporated a factory-installed .50 caliber
nose gun and eventually a chin turret with two .50 caliber guns.
The last and most common model, the B-17G, entered combat in September
1943, but further refinements were made throughout the war.
With a wing span of
103 feet and a length of 74 feet, the B-17G cut a graceful figure. Powered by
four Wright R-1820 Cyclone engines, it could carry a crew of ten and a bomb load
of up to 8000 pounds (but less on long-distance missions). The B-17G had a top
speed of 302 mph and a ceiling of 36,400 feet. Depending on the model and
theater of operations, B-17s carried ten to thirteen machine guns.
B-17 was the first plane to use turbo-superchargers, which boosted engine
performance at high altitude. The plane also featured the Norden bombsight, a
complicated piece of machinery that allowed the bombardier to compensate for
airspeed, wind speed, and drift when bombing. Purported to drop a bomb in a
pickle-barrel, the Norden never reached that accuracy in combat, but did allow
successful high-altitude, daylight strategic bombing.
Labels: B-17s, Flying Fortress, World War II