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B-17 Flying Fortress
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B-17 Flying Fortress

B-17 Flying Fortress

B-17 "Sally B", England, 2001.
Role Heavy bomber
Crew 10—Pilot, copilot, bombardier, navigator, flight engineer/top turret gunner, radio operator/dorsal gunner, ball turret gunner, left waist gunner, right waist gunner, tail gunner
First Flight
Entered Service
Length 74 ft 4 in 22.7 m
Wingspan 103 ft 10 in 31.6 m
Height 19 ft 1 in 5.8 m
Wing Area ft²
Empty lb kg
Loaded lb kg
Maximum Takeoff lb kg
Engines 4 Wright R-1820 "Cyclone"
Power 4 x 1,200 hp 4 x 900 kW
Maximum Speed 287 mph 462 km/h
Combat Range miles km
Ferry Range miles km
Service Ceiling 35,600 ft 10,850 m
Rate of Climb ft/min m/min
Wing Loading lb/ft² kg/m²
Power/Mass hp/lb kW/kg
Guns 13 x Browning M-2 0.5 in (12.7 mm) machine guns
Bombs 6,000 lb
Missiles n/a
Rockets n/a

The B-17 Flying Fortress was the first large, four-engined heavy bomber and is still one of the most recognized airplanes ever built. It was most widely used for daylight strategic bombings of German industrial targets during World War II as part of the US Eighth Air Force.

The prototype of the B-17 first flew on July 28, 1935. Few B-17s were in service when the United States entered World War II on December 7, 1941, but production quickly accelerated. The aircraft served in every WWII combat zone. Production ended in May 1945 after 12,726 aircraft had been built.

Contrary to the public perception that the aircraft was named the "Flying Fortress" because of the number of heavy machine guns it carried, the B-17 in fact received that sobriquet from newspaper reporters in the 1930s based on its original mission as a coastal patrol bomber, a 'flying fortress' that would guard the nation's offshore limits beyond the range of the heavy guns sited at major harbors. Among the combat aircrews that flew bombers in World War II, noted aviation writer Martin Caidin reported that the B-17 was referred to as the "Queen of the Bombers."

The B-17 was noted for its ability to take battle damage, still reach its target and bring its crew home. It reportedly was much easier to fly than its contemporaries, and its toughness more than compensated for its shorter range and lighter bomb load when compared to the Consolidated B-24 Liberator or the British Avro Lancaster heavy bombers.

The design went through eight major changes over the course of its production, culminating in what some consider the definitive type, the B-17G, differing from its immediate predecessor by the addition of a chin turret with two 0.5 in (12.7 mm) machine guns under the nose. This eliminated the airplane's main defensive weakness.

Prior to the introduction of the P-51 Mustang long range escort fighter, a B-17 escort variant called the YB-40 was introduced. This aircraft differed from the standard B-17 in that a second dorsal turret was installed between the top turret and the waist guns; and the single 0.5 in (12.7 mm) machine gun at each waist station was replaced by a pair of 0.5 in (12.7 mm) gun. In addition, the bombardier's equipment was removed and replaced with two 0.5 in (12.7 mm) machine guns in a 'chin' turret to augment the existing 'cheek' machine guns, and the bomb bay itself was converted to a magazine. The concept was twofold. First, the YB-40 would provide a heavily-gunned escort capable of accompanying the bombers all the way to the target and back. Second, they were used as decoys; a YB-40 would leave the bomber stream with one engine feathered, apparently in distress. Enemy fighters would close for the kill and discover that the 'cripple' was nothing of the kind. The aircraft was used with some success in the Mediterranean, but was overall a failure because it could not keep up with standard B-17s once they had dropped bombs.

Late in WWII, at least 25 B-17s were loaded with 12,000 pounds (5.4 tonnes) of high explosives, fitted with radio controls, dubbed "BQ-7 Aphrodite missiles," and used against U-boat pens and bomb-resistant fortifications. Because few (if any) BQ-7s hit their target, the Aphrodite project was scrapped in early 1945.

The Memphis Belle was a B-17F.

Table of contents
1 Other Operators
2 General Characteristics (B-17G)
3 Units Using the B-17
4 External links

Other Operators

General Characteristics (B-17G)

Units Using the B-17

United States Army Air Force

Royal Air Force

External links

Related content
Related Development
Similar Aircraft
Designation Series XB-14 - XB-15 - XB-16 - B-17 - B-18 - XB-19 - Y1B-20
YB-35 - B-36 - B-37 - XB-38 - XB-39 - YB-40 - XB-41 - XB-42 - XB-43
Related Lists List of military aircraft of the United States - List of bomber aircraft

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