B-17 Flying Fortress Heavy Bomber Origins

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

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is famous for the World War II military aviation stories that have become legendary. The origins of this heavy bomber are from the requirements of the United States Army Air Corps’ need for a high altitude daylight bomber necessary to attack strategic enemy targets and be able to take enormous sustained damage. The US goal was to establish air power over Europe to be a major force in warfare in spearheading an American offensive in Europe which remained intact through the Second World War. In the mid-1930s, the Boeing Flying Fortress bomber achieved this aim.

In the summer of 1934, Boeing first began conception of this new military heavy bomber. On September 26, 1934, Boeing received $275,000 in initial funding to design, develop and build the prototype that would become the Flying Fortress. The Project Engineer, E. Gifford Emery, with the help of his assistant, Edward C. Wells, were the primary contributors for the existing design and specifications of the aircraft. Then called Model 299, the bomber had a wingspan of 103 ft 9 in (31.6 m) utilizing four Pratt & Whitney Hornet radial engines rated at 750 hp per engine.

On July 17, 1935, the Model 299 was first unveiled for the public to see and was touted as the world’s first entirely metal four-engined heavy bomber. However, the press at the event were more impressed with the sheer size and streamlined features. Richard Williams, a reporter from the Seattle Daily Times assigned to cover Boeing’s event, was so moved by seeing the aircraft that that he wrote that the aircraft was a “flying fortress”. Boeing’s public relations department jump on the attention the plane received in being called Flying Fortress and was later adopted as a company registered name.

Only eleven days after that first public appearance of the Model 299 aircraft, the first test flights were made with pilot Leslie Tower taking command in flying the heavy bomber. The test flights were a great success and only experience the problem of having some tailwheel oscillation when taxing down the runway. Then on August 20, 1935, the bomber was flown from Seattle, Washington, to Dayton, Ohio, under the evaluation of the Air Corps. This flight was made in 9 hours and 3 minutes, with an average speed of 233 mph (375 km/hr), leaving all of the examining officers at Wright Field very impressed.

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