Surviving B-17 Bombers – Disposal & Uses

  1. B-17
  2. February 15, 2013 11:32 pm

During World War II, the immediate need for the powerful flying fortresses, the B-17 bomber was met with the mass production of thousands of units. Somewhere around 80% of these planes were shot down during combat missions, and after World War II ended, the remaining planes were not in big demand.

Many of the remaining planes in the B-17 fleets were retired. After that, they were melted down and sold for scrap, but a few planes stayed in service for alternate uses after the war. The Military Air Transport Service operated these planes as “Dumbo” air-sea rescue planes. Some B-17s were disarmed, having their heavy machine guns removed, while others remained outfitted due to the fact that they would be flying in areas where active combat was underway.

In the present day, only 51 B-17 bombers remain, in whole or in part. 19 of the 51 are only partial hulks and frames, not a complete unit at all. There remain 10 B-17 bombers that still fly actively. In addition, there are:

9 B-17 units on display (museums);

2 being restored to be flown in the future;

3 being restored for display purposes;

5 units in storage

In 1945, 16 Flying Fortress B-17 planes were transferred to the Coast Guard for use in sea-air rescues. Some of these planes were outfitted with droppable lifeboats so that they could have effective sea rescue capabilities. Flying over the ocean could provide a full picture of the situation, and at that point, the plane could come in lower and easily drop a life boat where needed.

Another important use of the B-17 was iceberg spotting. The early warning to ships in the area of the existence of dangerous icebergs was extremely important. Everyone knows the history of ships and icebergs, and the service of iceberg spotting saved a lot of lives.

Photo mapping was another great service provided by retired B-17 bombers. The planes were stripped of guns and war time machinery. The plexiglass of the ball turret location was the best place to mount a camera for recording the areas flown over.

Some of the planes were used as “drones” meaning they were flown remotely without a crew through mushroom clouds during the testing of nuclear weapons. The purpose of such tests was to determine if a live crew would be able to survive this kind of exposure. They were also used to conduct atmospheric testing and for target testing (surface to air and air to air missiles).


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