The Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortress" is a World War II
bomber used primarily in Europe. B-17s from the Eighth Air Force participated in
countless missions from bases in England. These missions often lasted for more
than eight hours and struck at targets deep within enemy territory. Because of
their long-range capability, formations of B-17s often flew into battle with no
fighter escort, relying on their own defensive capabilities to insure a
During the War, B-17s were among the most modern
aircraft in the U.S. inventory. However, the advent of the jet age and advances
in technology made the Flying Fortress obsolete soon after the conclusion of the
War. In the years following World War II, most B-17s were cut up for scrap, used
in Air Force research or sold on the surplus market.
In 1934, the Boeing Aircraft Company of Seattle,
Washington, began construction of a four-engine heavy bomber. Known as Boeing
model 299, it first took flight on July 28, 1935. The government ordered
production of 13 of these aircraft, now designated the Y1B-17. Delivery of these
first production models was between January 11 and August 4, 1937.
The B-17 received the name "Flying Fortress" from a
Seattle reporter who commented on its defensive firepower. The B-17 underwent a
number of improvements over its 10-year production span. Models ranged from the
YB-17 to the B-17-G model. Throughout the War, the B-17 was refined and improved
as battle experience showed the Boeing designers where improvements could be
made. The final B-17 production model, the B-17G, was produced in larger
quantities (8,680) than any previous model and is considered the definitive
"Flying Fort." With its 13 .50-caliber machine guns -- chin, top, ball and tail
turrets; waist and cheek guns -- the B-17G was indeed an airplane that earned
the respect of its combatants. In addition, air crews liked the B-17 for its
ability to withstand heavy combat damage and still return its crew safely home.
Between 1935 and May of 1945, 12,732 B-17s were
produced. Of these aircraft, 4,735 were lost during combat
Today, fewer than 100 B-17 airframes exist and fewer still are in airworthy condition. At one time, more than 1,000 B-17s could be assembled for mass combat missions, less than 15 of Boeing's famous bombers can still take to the air.