B-17 Flying Fortress

The B-17 aircraft served in every theater of the Second World War, but it is best known for the daylight mass strategic bombing of German targets from 1942 to 1945. Production of the B-17 ended in May 1945 with a total of 12,726 manufactured. The name "Flying Fortress" was coined by a reporter, but quickly adopted by Boeing and the military.

Waist gunner in the B-17 Invader II, S/Sgt. William D. King, Imperial, TX, over England, 17 March 1943.
Waist gunner in the B-17 Invader II, S/Sgt. William D. King, Imperial, TX, over England, 17 March 1943.

Today in WW II: 11 May 1939 Japanese begin attempt to seize Mongolian land to the banks of the Khalkin Gol River at Nomonhan, clashing with Soviet troops. More 
11 May 1940 Belgian fortress Eben Emael, on the Meuse River, reputed to be the most formidable stronghold in the world, falls to German Army glider assault.
11 May 1940 Luxembourg falls to the German army.
11 May 1940 On the night of 11-12 May, 1940 the Royal Air Force [RAF] attacked Mönchengladbach, Germany, the first Allied air raid on Germany of WW II.
11 May 1943 American troops invade Attu in the Aleutian Islands, beginning campaign to expel occupying Japanese forces [11-29 May].
11 May 1944 Allied Fifth and Eighth Armies launch long-awaited offensive, finally capturing Cassino and breaking the German Gustav Line [night of 11-12 May].
Visit the Olive-Drab.com World War II Timeline for day-by-day events 1939-1945! See also WW2 Books.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was the first mass-produced, four-engine heavy bomber. The B-17 was designed in 1934 and the first prototype flew on 28 July 1935. Only a few were produced before the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, but production quickly ramped up thereafter. The first use of the B-17 was against Wilhelmshaven on 8 July 1941. The B-17 not only pounded enemy strategic targets, but also carried out the destruction of enemy fighter aircraft. Massed formations of B-17s downed hundreds of the fighters sent to oppose them, causing the loss of enemy planes and irreplaceable pilots.

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress earned a reputation for toughness and versatility as the design of the B-17 went through eight major changes during its production history. The final version was the B-17G, designed to eliminate a weakness in head-on attacks by adding a chin turret with two .50 cal. machine guns under its nose. The B-17G was both new production and conversion of existing planes, for a total of 8,680 built.

The B-17 production history included manufacturing by Boeing, Douglas, and Lockheed-Vega. During development and standardized production, model designations included:

  • Boeing Model 299 (XB-17)
  • Y1B-17 (YB-17)
  • B-17A (Y1B-17A)
  • B-17B through B-17G

Other versions were produced under similar model designations (xB-17y, for example RB-17G) for training, target, and specialized uses.

B-17 Flying Fortress Characteristics

Armament 13 .50-cal. machine guns
Normal bomb load 6,000 lbs., up to 8,000 lbs. on some missions
Engines Four Wright Cyclone R-1820s of 1,200 hp each
Maximum speed 300 mph
Cruising speed 170 mph
Range 1,850 miles
Ceiling 35,000 ft.
Span 103 ft. 10 in.
Length 74 ft. 4 in.
Height 19 ft. 1 in.
Weight 55,000 lbs. loaded

Production of fuselage sections of the B-17F Flying Fortress, Boeing aircraft plant, Seattle, WA, December 1942
Production of fuselage sections of the B-17F Flying Fortress, Boeing aircraft plant, Seattle, WA, December 1942.

Nearly completed B-17F Flying Fortress, Boeing aircraft plant, Seattle, WA, December 1942
Nearly completed B-17F Flying Fortress, Boeing aircraft plant, Seattle, WA, December 1942.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Big Yank
Boeing B-17G-50-DL Flying Fortress (Number 44-6405) "Big Yank"

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress during WW II.  From the personal photos of Master Sgt. Willis L. McCurdy, 353rd Fighter Group, 8th Army Air Corps, Raydon Airfield, England, submitted courtesy of his son Dennis as a tribute
Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress during WW II. From the personal photos of Master Sgt. Willis L. McCurdy, 353rd Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, U.S. Army Air Forces, Raydon Airfield, England, submitted courtesy of his son Dennis as a tribute.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress over airfield in England during WW II
Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress over airfield in England during WW II.

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress in level flight for bombing, WW II
Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress in level flight for bombing, WW II.

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby from the 91st Bomb Group, restored and exhibited at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH.   Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby flew 24 combat missions from March to May 1944, when engine problems forced a landing in neutral Sweden where the airplane and crew were interned.  After the war, the aircraft was returned, restored, and was flown to the USAF museum in October 1988.  Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby is one of the few remaining B-17Gs that were in combat during WW II.
Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress "Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby" from the 91st Bomb Group, restored and exhibited at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH. Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby flew 24 combat missions from March to May 1944, when engine problems forced a landing in neutral Sweden where the airplane and crew were interned. After the war, the aircraft was returned, restored, and was flown to the USAF museum in October 1988. Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby is one of the few remaining B-17Gs that were in combat during WW II.

Recommended Book about the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress