Flight History – B-17 Flying Fortress

  1. B-17
  2. December 20, 2012 11:28 pm

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, a four-engine heavy bomber aircraft was built in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). It was the chief bomber employed by the American Air Force in Europe throughout the bombing operations against the Nazi Germany. The B-17 also contributed on a lesser scope in the combat in the Pacific region where it carried out raids against Japanese war forces.

On 8th of August 1934, the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) put forth a proposal for a multi-engine bomber to take over the Martin B-10. The conditions laid were that it should be able to bear a “useful bomb-load” at a height of 10,000 feet for 10 hours and have a minimum top speed of 200 miles per hour. At Wright Field in Dayton-Ohio, the contest for the Air Corps contract to construct 200 bombers was to be determined by a “fly-off” between the Douglas DB-1, Boeing’s design and the Martin Model 146.

Contending for the deal, the Boeing outperformed its opponent and met the Army Air Corps’ expectations. Boeing lost the deal as the prototype crashed however the Air Corps was impressed with Boeing’s design, and so they placed an order for 13 B-17s for further assessment. From its inception in 1938, the B-17 Flying Fortress underwent various design revisions.

The prototype B-17 was designed at Boeing’s expense, by a group of engineers managed by E. Gifford Emery and Edward Curtis Wells. It shared features of the investigational Boeing XB-15 bomber and the Boeing 247 transport airplane. The B-17’s armor comprised of around 4,800 pounds of ammunitions on two racks behind the cockpit and five 0.30 inches machine guns. It was power-driven by four Pratt & Whitney R-1690 “Hornet” radial engines each of which produced 750 horsepower at 7,000 feet. Boeing had created the only war aircraft that could carry on with its mission if one out of its four engines failed.

On 20 August 1935, the revised prototype travelled between Seattle to Wright Field in nine hours and three minutes at the speed of 252 m/h i.e. loads quicker than the contract competition. The GHQ Air Force understood that the long range potential of four engine large aircraft was more competent than shorter ranged twin-engined airplanes and therefore, the B-17 was better suited for their needs and requirements. Enhanced with better flaps, controls and Plexiglas nose, the B-17Bs were delivered in batches of five between July 1939 and March 1940. In July 1940, and a substantial order for 512 B-17s was placed.

The air-crafts served in every World War II combat sector. The B-17 equipped 32 overseas combat groups. The B-17 was primarily employed by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) in the daytime precision planned bombing operation of World War II against German industrial and military base.

In 1941, B17’s were based in Britain to aid the Bomber Command. With a service upper limit superior to all its Allied contemporaries, the B-17 earned a solid reputation as an effectual weapons system, dropping a larger number of bombs than other U.S. based aircraft in World War II. Out of total 1.5 million metric tons of bombs dropped on Germany, 640,000 tons were dropped from B-17s. Overall, more than 12,000 B17’s were constructed during the war and almost 250,000 American soldiers flew in them. The role played by the B17 in the European war was of great significance.

Similarly, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941, the B17 was already based at Hickham Air Base. They were attacked while still on the ground which led to a loss of 12 bombers. Nevertheless, the attack on Pearl Harbour propelled America into its full military production capacity and Boeing was asked to build as many B17’s as was possible. The B-17’s heavy gun shield was easily far more superior than the lightly protected Japanese planes.

Right from its pre-war initiation, the USAAC publicized the aircraft as a tactical weapon; it was a powerful, high flying, long range bomber that could protect itself and return home in spite of extensive war damage. B-17’s fame rapidly built on as a legend and the extensively spread war incidents, stories and photos of B-17s, and its survival of enemy attacks only served to amplify its iconic position.


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