Initial Point Index

WWII Heavy Bomber Formation Sculpture  Proposal,  Seattle, Washington 

Jamie Bollenbach   M.F.A. University of Washington 2002



Seattle WWII Bomber Installation Project Update:

On the sculpture itself, the first test casts were made a few months ago thanks to the support of UW, and I've now found a local foundry (finally) that can help cast the first artwork idea I plan to make for the B-17 public sculpture design: a wall-mounted installation of about 60  6" wide  B-17s - once that is finished, which gives an opportunity to work with the aluminum by hand and figure out the technical kinks, I plan to exhibit it to introduce the sculpture design concept and begin to raise the historical, cultural and even aesthetic issues around the Boeing B-17 and the strategic bombing campaign of World War II, as well as find support for the eventual project.

This stage is to take a clay model and begin a simple aluminum hand casting- the effect I want is the opposite of most military modeling. The pieces will be roughly cast and heavily textured, obscuring the details, evoking, I hope, the sense of an aircraft in motion- and in war. 


If you would like to help get this sculpture flying:

1) STUFF we can use

  • PHOTOGRAPHY: Older decent digital camera and/or digital video camera.
  • METAL: Small bits of Casting aluminum (i.e. not cans.)
  • METAL: Aluminum Welding Rod- about 1/4 inch diameter.

2) EXPERTISE we need:

  • ALUMINUM WELDING  (Use of Small Shop)


I had the honor of speaking with two WWII bomber pilots recently about the sculpture idea, and I was impressed that they responded positively to the concept of it, and that they appreciated the darker aspects of it.

The comment that keeps resurfacing is that even in the middle of an air raid, it was nearly impossible to really see the scale of it, or to engage with what was really happening on the ground.  One pilot described to me the one moment in 25 hard, dangerous missions where, on an unusally low raid leading a flight of B-24s against a rail target, he really thought about the nature of the bombing campaign. (In World War II, at the height of the Allied bombing against Germany, 6-10% of the planes, each with ten men, did not come back.)

60 seconds out from the target, they broke through the clouds at 2000 feet, and he could see the exact point they were aiming at: a farmhouse. He described the sense of recognition: the outbuildings around a farm so familiar to him.  He thought about the man sitting in his house with the holy rage of the Allies coming straight for him in the form of 50 heavy bombers.   He considered calling it off, but did not.

Former Presidential Candidate George McGovern was a bomber pilot during the war, and attested to the horrific power we had unleashed, justified only by the inexhaustible monstrosity of Adolf Hitler. He had a similar incident- when a bomb became stuck and had to be kicked out of the plane, where it dropped on a farmhouse he was trying to avoid. Many years later, a certain redemption came when he was contacted by the family who had lived there- they had known what was happening, had found shelter, and lived.


PROPOSAL Introduction



The Endless Skyway.” These vast flights, over a hundred miles long,were in a sense one of the largest territorial structures ever completed by human beings, certainly in its three dimensional aspects - the extreme spatiality of the structure – its capture\ of vast areas of empty space with relatively tiny objects.The flight designers spoke of box and pyramid-like air structures, highly specific arrangements of the aircraft to maximize the gun defense against fighters.These structures are remarkable, almost aesthetic accomplishments in themselves, never to be seen again, and the integrity of these structures was more important to the attack than any individual aircraft. A real view of this structure must have been an extraordinary sight, impossible to capture in photographs or film.

The design of this outdoor installation would incorporate metal castings for the tiny models, using a system of either wire pole mounting or grouped suspension using a form of balanced mobiles, which would permit limited kinetic movement.The installation, while small in terms of mass, would cover a flight area to a 1/432 scale of the historical air wings: approximately 2000 feet long; also, it could be arranged in a circle, suggesting infinite movement, of approximately 600 feet in diameter.

It may also incorporate a ground element: historical photos or miniaturized landscaping representing the area of
Europe directly underneath the flight path.. 

I have spoken with University of Washington in developing a proposal for a version of this piece to be mounted over the sculpture garden of the School of Art, and am beginning work on a maquette to work out design ideas, create interest, and submit for formal consideration.  Here is the proposed location, above the School's sculpture garden. 


Formal aspects:

a)    The models individually are not intended to be accurate as detail models, but accurate to how they would have appeared to ground observers, allies and targets alike.(Giacometti: absolute distance). Recognition or spotter models of the time sometimes exaggerated the characteristics of the bomber.

b)   Metal used for the models ideally would be sourced from the original factory, now under demolition, or from B-17 parts.

c)    Surface qualities of the model which affect the sight are important – for example, a randomized surface, involved lots of flashing, organic imperfections, etc, could actually add to the perception of realism at distance.

d)    The design of the support structures will relate to a double-vaulted ceiling in a cathedral, ideally comparable in scale (topping out at 80-100 feet).The structure should directly relate the concept of “airspace,” a human, quasi-architectural organization of the sky, to the viewer.


 Painting (c) 2008 Jamie Bollenbach o/c 50" by 30"




Conceptual Aspects:

a)    The design will have an aspect as a war memorial, particularly as we are in period of losing WWII veterans to time in the same rapid way that in the late 1930’s the Civil War veterans were passing. Veterans of the B-17 Air War, Boeing workers of the time, citizens of the target cities, might be invited to handle and physically inscribe the metal models with the name of their aircraft, their own names or members of their crews, or other memorials.

b)    The metal used should, if possible, be recycled from sources related to the original construction of the B-17 – old munitions, parts, pieces of the factory.

c)    The sculpture is meant to evoke the whole of the bombing campaign- personal sacrifice, accomplishment, survival and bravery, but equally, the horrible awe, mortal terror, destruction and death of real war.Commingled with overwhelming moral drive to defeat fascism, the sculpture would evoke the rise of the terrible, just anger of the humanitarian societies- and begs the question of moral responsibility for the devastating effect on civilian populations during the war.

d)    The “target area” or terminus of the flight, may include a very deep, funnel shaped hole, possibly in a fountain – deep enough so that light does not penetrate to the bottom. – This may represent the massive death that is the necessary result of strikes against cities, as well as the sucking darkness of fascism.

e)     Additional elements  for consideration:

           - The use of wind-driven drones in the supporting towers to create a sound element: an endless, low roar

          - Life-size figurative sculptures as funerary "angels"



Site Requirements:

a)Approximately 1/3 mile- 1 mile, by roughly 50 ft, of“flightpath” area to support dozens of large poles and their mobiles of model aircraft.The initial installation is meant to be temporary, but it is also intended to develop into a permanent site-specific installation.

b)    There are several possible configurations:

i)        A straight line path 1/3 mile long,the demolished factory area or near Boeing field, or Magnuson Point.

ii)         A U-turn shape showing the target as the apex (which halves the distance.)

iii)        A circular pattern revolving around the entire length of a building like the Boeing Flight Museum, or the HenryArtGallery, using an existing structure as a support for the installation.

iv)        Boeing Factory #2, currently scheduled for demolition; installed temporarily surrounding the building.

Organizational and Volunteer Requirements

a)    Engineering: engineering assistance in the selection and development of metals, tower support design, kinetic movement performance, and assembly design may be required.Volunteer engineers would be recruited.Possible sources are UW School of Engineering, Aeronautics, Boeing, Machinists Unions.

b)    Movement and assembly of this large outdoor installation structure will require significant volunteer labor, and management.

c)   Support Artist metalwork may be recruited with contacts through the UW School of Art, the PrattCenter, and other area arts resources.

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This is a Proposal for WWII Heavy Bomber Site-Specific Sculpture, to be located in Seattle, Washington.

This is a proposal for an outdoor installation sculpture consisting of approximately 500, 1/432 scale model Boeing B-17E and B-17F bombers (approximately 2-4” long) arranged in a historically accurate representation of a “Big Week” flight group dating to U.S. Eighth Air Force operations during World War II. A set of light, arched towers, based on studies of cathedral arches and radio towers, would support a set of balanced, mobile-like groups of aircraft models; the models would have a limited kinetic movement generated by wind forces.

The installation would accurately and artistically depict the highly complex, pyramid-like air formations of the bombers used during the war. A historical recreation and war memorial, its intent is artistic, created to evoke the extraordinarily powerful impact of the B-17 bombing campaign on the men of its crews, the men and women who built the aircraft in Seattle, the people of the world it was intended to free from fascism. It places the viewer in the position of those who watched the groups leaving to avenge their friends and family, save their nations and destroy their enemies - but also the people who lived among the targets or became targets themselves, the Europeans who watched in mortal fear as these vast formations of bombers roared high above, bring destruction on an industrial scale. 

This history, I am convinced, is of extreme relevance to America's concept of itself, for good and for ill. The strange regional truth is that, in order to defeat fascism, the extraordinary effort of Seattle, Washington destroyed many of the major cities- and many hundreds of thousands of people-  in Germany and Japan.

I welcome your comments and suggestions for development of this concept; in particular, I would like to hear from veterans, crew, aviation engineers, and civilians who were participants and witnesses to these events.