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Boeing B-17

One of the most famous aircraft of World War Two, the B-17 was also one of the most important. Originally concieved in 1934 to meet a requirement for a multi-engine coastal defence bomber, the Model 299, as the prototype was called, was one of the largest bombers in the world at the time. The Model 299 first flew in July of 1935. But during the first display flight, the big bomber crashed and killed all onboard. It was ruled that this was due to human error; the pilot had forgotten to remove the control locks before take-off. The U.S. Army Air Force rewarded Boeing with the contract. The first B-17s appeared different than the B-17s most people picture. They had no tail gunner position, blisters at the waist positions, a 'bath tub' postition on the underside, no top turret, and a different nose. The first were by far different than the later variants which earned the name 'Flying Fortress'. On December 7, 1941, a flight of B-17s reached Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack. All landed, either on a golf course or on various runways, but one was destroyed on the ground. Nearly all of the B-17s that were in the Far East were destroyed that terrible day. But the Pacific was not the main arena for the B-17. The ranges in the Pacific were too great for the Fortress, so the longer-legged B-24 took over there. Fortress Europe was the main theater for the B-17. Later versions developed a larger tail with a tail gun position, flat waist gunner positions, a ball turret position on the underside, a top turret, and a different nose. A chin turret was even added on the B-17G to fend-off head-on attacks that were popular with the Luftwaffe boys. But with all of these guns (many had thirteen .50 caliber macine guns), the large, lumbering plane was an easy target. Losses skyrocketed in 1943. With the advent of the long-range P-51, losses started to diminish. B-17s were now taking the fight to the Germans. The toughness of the plane was a favorite of the crew. Planes came home with noses shot off, horizontal stabilizers gone, engines on fire, wings ripped apart, and worse. Many had God and the toughness of the plane to thank; they would have otherwise gone down. Yes, the B-17 will always be a favorite among warbird buffs for years to come.

The B-17G. This was the variant which was a real 'Flying Fortress' with up to thirteen .50 caliber machine guns. It also had a new chin turret to fend off head-on attacks. This was the definitive variant.

Loading a B-17 for another mission. Bomb handling was a dangerous job, as they often exploded prematurely.

B-17's drop their bombload on a Nazi target. This was the most tense part of the mission because the bombers could not move off course to aviod flak.