Click on Picture to enlarge


Boeing B-17G "Flying Fortress"

+ Larger Font | - Smaller Font


Click on Picture to enlarge

The Flying Fortress is one of the most famous airplanes ever built. The B-17 prototype first flew on July 28, 1935. Few B-17s were in service on December 7, 1941, but production quickly accelerated. The aircraft served in every WW II combat zone, but is best known for daylight strategic bombing of German industrial targets. Production ended in May 1945 and totaled 12,726.

In March 1944 this B-17G was assigned to the 91st Bomb Group--"The Ragged Irregulars"--and based at Bassingbourn, England. There it was named Shoo Shoo Baby by its crew, after a popular song. It was later renamed "Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby" after another pilot replaced the original aircraft commander. It flew 24 combat missions in WW II, receiving flak damage seven times. Its first mission (Frankfurt, Germany) was on March 24, 1944, and last mission (Posen, Poland) on May 29, 1944, when engine problems forced a landing in neutral Sweden where the airplane and crew were interned. In 1968, Shoo Shoo Baby was found abandoned in France; the French government presented the airplane to the USAF.  In July 1978, the 512th Military Airlift Wing moved it to Dover AFB, Delaware, for restoration by the volunteers of the 512th Antique Restoration Group. The massive 10-year job of restoration to flying condition was completed in 1988 and the aircraft was flown to the Museum in October 1988.

103 ft. 10 in.
Length: 74 ft. 4 in.
Height: 19 ft. 1 in.
Weight: 55,000 lbs. loaded
Armament: Thirteen .50-cal. machine guns with normal bomb load of 6,000 lbs.
Engines: Four Wright "Cyclone" R-1820s of 1,200 hp. ea.
Cost: $276,000
Serial Number: 42-32076

Maximum speed:
300 mph.
Cruising speed: 170 mph.
Range: 1,850 miles
Service Ceiling: 35,000 ft.


Boeing Model 229 Prototype B-17

Boeing Y1B-17



Wright R-1820 "Cyclone" Engine


Click on Picture to enlarge

The Wright Aeronautical Corp. introduced the first R-1820 in 1931. Developed from earlier "Cyclone" engines of the 1925-1930 era, the R-1820 was larger and more powerful than its predecessors. Originally rated at 575 hp., the engine's performance was dramatically improved during its many years of production, with several later versions being rated at 1,525 hp. Although the R-1820 was used in thousands of military and civilian aircraft of various types, it is probably best known as the engine that powered the B-17 of WW II fame.

The R-1820B on display is an early version rated at 575 hp. It is similar to the more powerful R-1820-33s used on the Martin B-10.

(for R-1820-33 used on the Martin B-10)
Model: R-1820-33
Type: 9-cylinder, air-cooled, radial
Displacement: 1,823 cu. in.
Max. RPM: 2,100
Max. HP: 775
Cost: $10,000

The Wright 1820 "Cyclone"


B-17s on the flight line

The Boeing Aircraft Company's B-17 Flying Fortress is, without much doubt, America's most famous military aircraft. Considered to be one of the major weapons of the Second World War, this four-engined bomber was held in very high esteem by Army Air Forces leaders. After the war, for example, General Carl "Tooey" Spaatz told AAF chief General Hap Arnold that "the B- 17 was the single weapon most responsible for the defeat of Germany."

Ordered by the U.S. Army Air Corps in August 1934, the Model 299 flew for the first time on July 28, 1935, but was not designated B-17 until the following January. The aircraft was tested at Wright Field in flyoffs against the Martin 146 (an improved B-10) and the Douglas DB-1 (based on the DC-2 and later designated B-18). Without question the 250 mph Boeing, carrying eight 600 pound bombs, was far superior to the competition. But when the prototype Model 299 crashed because its controls were inadvertently locked on take-off, the B-18 won the Air Corps contract. Boeing was brought to the brink of financial disaster, with the loss of over $6 million. However an Army order for 13 test Y1B-17s kept the program and the company alive. The next major development, the Y1B-17A, incorporated turbo-super-chargers, giving excellent high altitude performance. There was a hint that the Air Corps dream of a long-range strategic bombardment capability might be fulfilled, but the aircraft was not presented in this way.

The B-17 was sold to Congress as the ultimate "defensive" weapon, reflecting the spirit of isolationist prewar years: the bomber would be flown to protect U.S. shores and overseas possessions from enemy fleets in other words, this marvel of engineering would be an extended arm of coastal artillery. However, within the Air Corps a determined cadre of believers in the B-17 would begin to maneuver behind the scenes to get the superior aircraft ordered in quantity. In February and March 1938, within a year of their delivery, Y1B-17s attached to the 2nd Bomb Group made two goodwill flights to South America. Numerous records were broken, leading to a headline campaign to convince Congress and the public that the B-17 was worth having, and from that point on the Flying Fortress began to take its place in history. From one Y1B-17 built every two weeks in 1937, Fortress production jumped to a peak of 16 per day in April 1944. By the time it was all over 12,731 B-17s had been built.

Click on Picture to enlarge

The first combat mission flown by the Flying Fortress wasn't an American operation at all. RAF Bomber Command Lend-Lease B-17Cs attacked the German port of Wilhelmshaven on July 8, 1941, but subsequent missions left the British unimpressed and their Fortress Is were withdrawn from service. On Dec. 7, 1941, the Army Air Forces in Hawaii had 12 B-17s at Hickam Field and another 12 which were in the process of arriving from California. Several were destroyed by the end of the day.

At Clark Field near Manila, 16 of 35 Forts were destroyed in the initial Japanese attacks. On Dec 10, 1941, the remaining B-17s launched the first American bombing raid of the war by attacking Japanese shipping. But by the end of 1941 those left were so worn out they were flown back to Australia. Several new B-17Es were flown to Java to try to stop the Japanese push against the Dutch East Indies and several units continued to fly out of Australia but there were never a large number of B-17s in the Pacific.

The first B-17E assigned to the Eighth Air Force arrived in England on July 1, 1942, and the first mission was flown by the 97th Bomb Group to Rouen on Aug. 17 with Gen. Ira C. Eaker in the lead. In early November 1942 several groups of the Eighth's Forts were detached to North Africa following the Allied invasion, beginning a long history of the type in the Mediterranean. By mid 1942 the B-17F began to arrive in England and by 1943 it was the model responsible for facing the most ferocious Luftwaffe opposition of the war. The AAF was the Fort used to develop the technique of daylight precision bombing.

Click on Picture to enlarge

In September 1943 the Army Air Forces reached the peak of their B-17 inventory with 6,043, most serving in 33 groups overseas, compared to 45.5 groups of B-24 Liberators flying combat. The two aircraft would have a continual rivalry between their crews, particularly when they served in the same theater. When the Fifteenth Air Force was formed in Italy in late 1943, the AAF could hit Germany with B-17s and B-24s from both west and south, something which forced German production czar Albert Speer to disperse industry and move as much of it underground as possible.

Though AAF prewar planners had a great deal of faith in the self defensive armament of its bombers, in reality fighters and flak make daylight bombing prohibitive without fighter escort. After the Schweinfurt raid of Oct. 14, 1943, when 60 bombers failed to come home, the Eighth Air Force had to cease deep penetration missions until P-47s, P-38s and P-51s could escort them all the way to the target and back. Had it not been for these fighters and their pilots, the AAF Strategic bombing Offensive would have failed. The final Flying Fortress model, the F-17G, began to arrive in England in September 1943 and by the spring of 1944 it was the version most responsible for carrying the war to Germany from England and Italy. It was easily recognized by the addition of a chin turret below the nose. The Eighth Air Force had a peak strength of 2,370 B-17Gs by March 1945.

From 1942 to 1945 B-17s dropped 640,036 tons of bombs on European targets compared to 452,508 tons from the B-24s. Though by comparison the B-17 was slower, could carry fewer bombs, had less range and was produced in fewer numbers, it could take more battle damage and made forced landing nearly effortless. The center of the AAF's public relations effort, the B-17's fame will forever be established in the American mind.


The Flying Fortress

One of the United States' two standard heavy bombers until the introduction of the B-29 Superfortress, the B-17 was flown by the United States Army Air Force throughout the American participation in the Second World War. Wing to wing with B-24 Liberators, B-17s were used by the US Eighth Air Force based in the UK, to bombard German targets in Europe during daylight hours a method which resulted initially in very heavy losses.

Click on Picture to enlarge

B-17s were used by the US Eighth Air Force based in the UK, to bombard German targets in Europe during daylight hours a method which resulted initially in very heavy losses.

The Flying Fortress was designed for a competition, announced in 1934, to find a modern replacement for the assorted Keystone biplane bombers then in service. The prototype first flew on July 28,1935, and went on to win the competition. Boeing then built a few preproduction YlB-17s (later redesignated B-17As), followed by 39 B-17Bs which entered service in the late thirties. Money was short, and by the autumn of 1939 only 30 Flying Fortresses were fully operational. As the US was not then fighting in Europe it did not seem to matter although, as it became clearer that involvement was inevitable, orders were increased. Furthermore, a small number of B-17Cs delivered to the RAF as Fortress Is quickly showed that defensive armament was inadequate.

One of 235 B-17G-45's built by Boeing at Seattle.

In September of 1941, a new Fortress appeared with an extensively modified empennage. Gone was the pert fin and rudder riding precariously behind the stabilizer. Instead, a broad yet graceful dorsal fin rose from amidships and enveloped a deadly stinger of twin .50-cal. machine guns. A remote controlled belly turret held two more .50s. This was the B-17E, of which 112 were built. Four hundred more followed but with a manned Sperry ball turret replacing the remote system. The B-17E was lengthened to 73 feet 10 inches to accommodate the new defensive tail position. Top speed was 317 mph, cruising at over 200 mph with 4,000 pounds of bombs.

The Pearl Harbor attack of December 7,1941 finally brought the United States into the war and production of the B-17 rapidly increased. By July 1942 the US began forming the Eighth Air Force in Britain, equipped with B-17Es. The 'E' represented an important improvement over the earlier B-17s, in that it had a tail turret, so eliminating a previous defensive blind spot. On August 17,1942 United States B-17s carried out a bombing raid on the railway yards at Rouen in France. The real offensive, however, started on January 27,1943, when B-17s of the USAAF made their first attack on Germany. Initially, casualties were very high because they attacked during daylight hours to achieve greater accuracy and because proper formation flying (to enable a group of airplanes to defend each other with crossfire) had not yet been formulated. Delivery of the B-17G (the major production version) helped. The 'G' was the first variant to have a gun turret under the nose, so increasing the armament to 13 guns.

A Douglas built B-17G-30, from Long Beach California. Lockheed also manufactured Flying Fortresses for the Air Corps.

Production of the similar B-17F was undertaken by Douglas and Vega, a subsidiary of the Lockheed Aircraft Corp., was taking its toll in speed. The B-17F, though now armed with eleven .50-cal. guns, could only reach 299 mph, but landing speed was up to 90 mph! Service ceiling was 37,500 feet and range 2,880 miles. It took twenty-five and a half minutes to climb to 20,000 feet. Three thousand, four hundred B-17Fs were produced by the three companies.

By September 1943, the Flying Fortress showed its final shape. During firepower tests on the XB-40, a modified B-17F, the advantage of a chin turret was clearly proven and a new series, labeled B-17G, sported this nasal appendage. The Bendix turret held two .50-cal. guns and this model had a total of twelve of these weapons with 6,380 rounds of ammunition. In all, there were 8,680 B-17Gs built by Boeing, Vega, and Douglas to make this the largest production variation. Following the first Model 299, the Air Corps purchased 12,725 B-17 type aircraft.

Click on Picture to enlarge

The B-17G introduced new fire power in the form of the Bendix chin turret and a new tail stinger.

On 19 July 1943 US B-17s and B-24 Liberators carried out the first bombing raid on Rome; and US bombing in Europe reached its high point in February 1945 with a 1,000-bomber raid on Berlin, escorted by 400 fighters, and the Dresden raid (alongside the Royal Air Force) which caused a massive fire storm to sweep the city.

Meanwhile, B-17s were also helping to win the war against Japan, although by mid-1943 the larger B-29 had begun to take over the major strategic bombing missions. By the end of production, more than 12,700 B-17s had been built, of which a few served with Royal Air Force Coastal Command and the United States Navy for patrol, air-sea rescue, antisubmarine and other duties.

B-17G specifications included a span of 103 feet 9 inches, length of 74 feet 4 inches, and a height of 19 feet 1 inch. The four supercharged Wright R-1820-97 Cyclones delivered 1,200 hp and gave a top speed of 287 mph, cruising at 182 mph. Service ceiling was 35,600 feet, with a range of 3,400 miles. Empty and gross weights were 36,135 pounds and 55,000 pounds. Maximum fuel load was 3,630 gallons.

Cargo conversions of the B-17 were known as C-108 .

The History Of The B-17



The First American Missions From England

American air power made its European debut during the summer of 1942. On June 12, Colonel Harry Halverson led thirteen B-24 Liberators on a first daring, long-distance raid against the oil refineries at Ploesti, Rumania. Taking off from Egypt, 1,000 miles from the target, the bombers surprised the enemy. All the planes got safely away, though one B-24 crash landed later.

Click on Picture to enlarge
A B-17 being loaded at an English base with three-hundred pound bombs. In June 1944, the Americans dropped 120,000 tons of bombs on Germany.

The first American mission from England took place, appropriately, on the Fourth of July. Six air crews, flying A-20 Boston bombers borrowed from the RAF, joined six British crews on a low-level raid against air bases in Holland. The Germans were warned by radio from a picket ship off the Dutch coast, and two of the bombers flown by Americans were shot down. The bombardiers of two of the other planes were so confused by the camouflaged targets that they failed to drop their bombs at all.

More auspicious was a raid on August 17, against the railroad yards at Rouen. A dozen B-17 Flying Fortresses loaded with three hundred-pound bombs, completed their mission without losses. In the fall, the North African invasion diverted planes and men and temporarily stalled the buildup of US air strength in England. But as the Eighth continued to stab at the enemy, American crews matched the courage and ability of veterans.

On one occasion, for instance, nine B-17s, turning back from a canceled mission against Rotterdam, were jumped by more than twenty German fighters. The Americans fought their way back to England, but in one bomber the pilot was injured and the copilot killed. The bombardier, who had been washed out of flying school, took over the controls and flew the plane back home on two engines.

It Was A Fortress Coming Home


A Luftwaffe Test Pilot's Account Of A Captured B-17

Luftwaffe Test Pilot by Hans Werner Lerche

Perhaps there were other aircraft that were even more pleasant to fly than the B-17, because it did have its drawbacks: for example, the forces acting on the ailerons were relatively high, and the rudder felt as if it were set in concrete. But it was much more important that the aircraft was easy to fly and land. When one had become accustomed to the higher all-up weight and the strange instruments, it could be compared with our He 111 in the degree of effort needed to fly it.

What was really outstanding about the B-17 which made it, together with the Liberator, the standard day heavy bomber in the European theater of war? It certainly was not fast in low altitudes; only the exhaust-driven turbo-superchargers gave the B-17 its good performance at higher altitudes. All in all, that was for me the most admirable thing about American planning, namely the consequential pursuit of a concept once it had been recognized as correct, in this case the effectiveness of raids carried out by well-armed high-altitude bombers flying in close formations.

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress
          Wing span: 103 ft. 9 in (31.6 m)
Length: 74 ft. 9 in (22.8 m)
Height: 19 ft. 1 in (5.8 m)
Wing Area: 1,420 sq ft (132 sq m)
Empty: 32,720 lb (14,855 kg)
Normal Loaded: 49,500 lb (22,475 kg)
Maximum Overloaded: 60,000 lb (27,240 kg)
Maximum Speed: 295 m.p.h. (472 km/h) at 25,000 ft (7,625 m)
Service Ceiling: 35,000 ft (10,670 m)
Normal Range: (normal fuel & max bombs), 1,100 miles (1,760 km)
@ 220 mph (352 km/h) @ 25,000 ft (7,625 m)
Four 1,200 hp Wright R-1820-97 nine cylinder air-cooled single row radial engines. General Electric Type B-22 exhaust driven turbo-superchargers,
installed under engine nacelles.
Thirteen 50-cal. machine-guns. Normal bomb load 6,000 lbs (2,724 kg).
Largest bomb type carried is 2,000 lb (908 kg).

One must remember that several years would pass between planning and execution of a concept. Possibly only the idea of keeping the attacking fighters at bay with heavily armed bombers flying in close formation and firing from all 'portholes' had to be revised. This consequently happened after the raid on Schweinfurt which, due to the long distance involved, had to be carried out without fighter escort, During this raid the USAAF bombers suffered heavy losses from twin-engine Zerstorer and single-seat fighters attacking with rocket missiles, which naturally caused quite a crisis. The correct solution to this problem was soon found: elimination of the sluggish, rocket-carrying Luftwaffe 'destroyers' by escort fighters -- and several versions of these, with excellent performance, were also soon available. Nor did the rather poorly adjusted control forces on the American bombers have much detrimental effect, as this was certainly not decisive during the approach at great height, and even less so after the bombers had been equipped with an excellent three-dimensional autopilot. It must be stressed that the respectable speed of the B-17 at higher altitudes was due solely to its excellent exhaust-driven turbo-superchargers. But for the production of these devices one required not only the know-how but also large quantities of heat-resisting materials which we were lacking in Germany.

Occasionally I would receive via Switzerland foreign reports on German aircraft, and it was interesting to read that they quite often not only praised the construction of the machines but the engines as well, more often than not concluding that the Germans just did not have the necessary heat-resistant metals for even better performance.



Photo Gallery


Click on Picture to enlarge

Note external bomb racks under wings.

Left wing shot away.

A bombing accident. Note bomb near left tail section.

Note missing left tail section.

Amid air collision with a ME-109. The tail was almost completely severed.
B-17G drawing  - reproduced with thanks from 'B-17 Flying Fortress' by David C. Isby (Jane's Publishing Co)
B-17 Flying Fortress

The most unusual conversions were 3 B-17Gs converted to engine test beds. The nose section was removed and replaced with a strengthened mount for a fifth engine. The Pratt & Whitney XT-34, Wright XT-35, Wright R-3350, and Allison T-56 engines were all flight tested on JB-17Gs.



The Cost Of A B-17

As a postscript to the B-17 story (and in response to various queries), here is some cost information on the B-17 Fortress. According to Peter Bowers's *Boeing Aircraft Since 1916" the cost of a B-17G when built in mass-produced quantities in 1943-44 was:

	Airframe 		   $127,069 
	Engines 		 	    38,483 
	Propellers 		 	    11,900 
	Electronics 	  	          9,040  
	Ordnance 		         6,342 
	Miscellaneous equipment        45,495 
	Total: 		                 $238,329 

Sounds like small potatoes today!



  1. Boeing Aircraft Since 1916, Peter M. Bowers, Naval Institute Press, 1989.





Last Updated