A Brief History of the B-17 Bomber

  1. B-17
  2. January 18, 2013 11:29 pm

A brief History of the B-17 Bomber

After the devastating carnage of World War One, The American Army Air Corps decided that a new bomber was justified and felt the need for a 250 mph bomber with an effective range of 2,000 miles along with an operating ceiling of 10,000 feet. At the time, an ailing enterprise, Boeing Co. rose to the challenge and Project Model 2-99 was born.

In July 1935, the Boeing Model 2-99 was rolled out., weighing in at 15 tons and equipped with four engines. One journalist watching its first flight in Seattle made the comment that the Boeing 2-99 looked like a flying fortress in the air due to its extreme number of machine guns. The name stands to this day.

The Boeing 2-99 had specifications that exceeded the U.S. Army Air Corps but sadly crashed in October 1935 during an evaluation exercise, killing both its two man crew. The bomber was subsequently disqualified but a small number was ordered for further evaluation purposes.

With the situation in Europe becoming increasingly intense, the Boeing 2-99, now renamed the B -17, with super charged engines and a flying ceiling of 30,000 feet , was pressed into action. 20 were sent to Britain as part of the Lend-Lease Deal but had an inauspiscious debut.

When Pearl harbor was attacked by the Japanese in December 1941, 12 B-17’s were lost on the ground. That event however was the start of the successful career of the B-17 Superfortress and the Boeing Co. was asked to produce as many as possible, with 8,680 coming off of the assembly line between July 1943 and April 1945.

A weapon of choice for the U.S. 8th Air Force, based in Britain, the B-17 was primarily deployed in daylight precision strategic bombing campaigns against Germany, with industrial and military complexes as the main targets.

The first full B-17 mission against german targets took place in August 1942, but german fighter pilots quickly realized that a frontal attack all but neutralized the enormous firepower that was primarily positioned on the sides of the bombers.

In August 1943, 211 B-17’s participated in the raid on the Schweinfurt ball bearing factory, an all important target since it had the capacity to produce 52% of german ball bearing needs. It was also defended on a massive scale and 60 B-17’s were lost in action, an almost 30% rate. It was subsequently estimated that one thirf of B-17 crews would be lost.

However, a study conducted by the U.S. 8th Air Force led to a change of flying pattern and with the emergence of the new Model G, with more machine guns at the front of the B-17 to fight off frontal attacks, the B-17 retained its title as the backbone of the U.S. Air force during World War Two.

Overall description of the B-17 Superfortress Bomber :

* Length : 74 feet, 9 inches

* Height : 19 feet 1 inch with gear down

* Wing span : 103 feet 9 inches

* Weight : 41,000 lbs tactical empty and 64,500lbs maximum grss

* 4 1,200 hp engines

* Four .50 in machine guns and one .30 nose machine gun in the B-17C model increased to thirteen .50 in machine guns in the G model

* 8,000 lbs bombs for short range missions and 4,500 lbs bombs for long range

* 287 mph maximum speed and 182 mph in cruising mode

* 2,000 miles range

* Crew of 10

It should be noted that the B-17 was famous for absorbing extensive damage, reach its target and still bring its crew home.


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