B-17 Bomber – Flying Fortress

  1. B-17
  2. March 18, 2013 11:30 pm

When the shadow of war started to loom near the end of the 1930’s, it became apparent that the US Army Air Corps needed something a little bit more up to date than the Martin B-10 Bomber. There was a need for a super compact war machine that would have a rugged strength as well as endurance.

Initially, the idea of an American “air force” was a topic that was met with hostility by the US Navy, because they considered themselves the first and best line of defense with the Navy’s massive battleships that patrolled the ocean. The thought that bombers could be successfully offensive was met with much negativity in the initial stages of air force discussions.

Later, Brigadier-General William Mitchell proved to be the biggest advocate for the use of long range bombers in the Army Air Corps. Trials of various types of aircraft started in June of 1921, to determine if a bomber could actually sink a battleship. Various weights of bombs were dropped to see if they were effective.

The B-17 bomber had to be designed with three main ideas in mind:

* It had to be able to carry a substantial bomb load over a considerable distance;

* It had to be capable of sustaining heavy damage from enemy fire while still being able to remain in the air, allowing it to drop it’s payload over the intended target; and

* It had to be suitable for mass production, with a basic design that would remain unchanged except for certain modifications.

Boeing was given the monumental task of meeting these requirements with an initial investment by Boeing itself of $275,000.00. Design work started in the summer of 1934 when Boeing conceptualized the B-17 and the first prototype produced by Boeing was later to be known as the “Flying Fortress”. E. Gifford Emery was the Project Engineer and Edward C. Wells was the assistant on the development of the B-17. Edward C. Wells undertook the design of the fuselage as his own personal project. The design of the fuselage was an all metal structure which a depth of 8.6 feet and a width of 7.5 feet. This ensured that the structural strength was distributed evenly throughout the entire length of the B-17, so that if the plane took a hit to that area, it would not cause the plane to fail and crash.

After the development of the aircraft, a prototype was tested on July 17, 1935, and was known as the Model 299. Leslie R. Tower, Boeing’s Chief Test Pilot took the aircraft for its maiden flight on July the 28th, 1935. The plane performed, as expected, and soon after that, Boeing set out to convince the Army Air Corps. To that end, Leslie Tower took a flight on August 20, 1935 with Louis Wait as his co-pilot, Mr. C.W. Benton of Boeing and Henry Igo of Pratt & Whitney as passengers/observers. The flight was 9 hours long, non stop, with an average speed of about 232 mph.

Several other planes were evaluated and the final testing and evaluation took place on October 30, 1935. Among the prospects, there were also the Martin 146 and the Douglas DB-1 – twin engine models, while the Model 299 had four engines. As the Model 299 rose from the ground during its test flight, it stalled, pitched on its wing and plummeted to the ground, catching on fire as it impacted the ground. An investigation of the crash later revealed that the crash had been caused by human error and by no mechanical malfunction.

The B17 was dubbed the Flying Fortress by Richard Williams, a Seattle Daily Times reporter, who had been assigned to report on the unveiling of the Model 299 on July 17, 1935. He was so impressed by the size and power of the Model 299 B-17 that he wrote about it in his article and called it a “Flying Fortress”, which name was later adapted and registered as a company name for manufacturing these planes.

The Flying Fortress B-17 could carry a maximum bomb load of 12,800 pounds and a crew of 10 men, including a Pilot, Co-Pilot, Radio Operator, Photographer, Turret Gunner, Navigator, Bombardier, and two Waist Gunners. The top speed was about 233 miles per hour, with a fuel capacity of 2780 US gallons.

Mass production of the B-17 began in 1941 to prepare for the war in the Pacific with three companies making a combined effort to produce the planes, including Boeing, the Douglas Aircraft Company and the Vega Division of Lockheed.

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