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.
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)
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
13 .50-cal. machine guns
Normal bomb load
6,000 lbs., up to 8,000 lbs. on some missions
Four Wright Cyclone R-1820s of 1,200 hp each
103 ft. 10 in.
74 ft. 4 in.
19 ft. 1 in.
55,000 lbs. loaded
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.
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 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-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.
Recommended Book about the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress