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The B-17 "Flying Fortress"

[from "Might in Flight" Copyright ©1997 Harry D. Gobrecht]

No story about the 303rd Bombardment Group (H) would be complete without recognition and love of the airplanes in which combat crews flew. Dedicated ground crews and maintenance personnel labored long hours to keep their assigned B-17s in the air. Competition was keen among ground personnel in amassing the best record in safety, flying hours and durability.

Observers of the B-17 often described it as elegant and graceful. Pilots and crews fell in love with her after her sturdiness, strength, reliability, forgiveness, and usefulness were exhibited. The Army Air Corps, after original misgivings, found it an ideal aircraft to prove its strategic bombing concept of daylight precision bombing.

The small Boeing Airplane Company of Seattle, WA, had gambled its future on its new concept for bomber aircraft. An invitation was received from the Army on 8 August 1934 to submit a company- owned design in a fly-off bomber design competition to be held at Wright Field in August, 1935. Boeing concentrated its efforts on its Model 299. Army specifications demanded a multi-engine design capable of carrying a 2000 lb. bomb load a desired distance of 2200 miles at a required top speed of 200 mph, but a desired top speed of 250 mph. [The pilot who died in the test of Model 299 was Ployer (Pete) Hill, for whom Hill Air Force Base is named. Hill AFB is the home of an outstanding Aerospace Museum.]

Boeing's contest entry was rolled out of the final assembly hangar on Boeing Field, the King County airport, on 17 July 1935. The first flight was made on 28 July. The four-engined 299 was the sensation of the Wright Field contest, easily out-performing the twin-engine Douglas and Martin entries in all tasks. On 30 October an Army pilot took off with the manual control lock engaged, and the plane crashed. Since it could not complete the required tests, the 299 was disqualified; Douglas won the contest and secured an initial order for 133 B-18's, which were essentially bomber versions of the DC-2 Transport.

The performance of the 299 had made such a great impression, however, that it received a small "Service Test" order in spite of its crash, which was chalked up to pilot error. Thirteen military models to be designated YB-17, plus one static test article, were ordered on 17 January 1936. The first flight of the YIB-17, designation having been changed from YB-17, took place on 2 December 1936.


During WWII 12,731 B-17s were produced as follows:

MODELFIRST FLOWNBoeingDouglasVegaTOTAL
29928 Jul 19351001
Y1B172 Dec 1936130013
Y1B17A29 Apr 19381001
B17B27 Jun 1939390039
B17C21 Jul 1940380038
B17D3 Feb 1941420042
B17E5 Sep 194151200512
B17F30 May 19422,3006055003,405
B17G21 May 19434,0352,3952,2508,680
TOTAL6,9813,0002,75012,731
54.8%23.6%21.6%100%

Original B-17 - First flown in 1935 was used up until 1939.


B-17B - Delivered well before WWII. The gun turret was removed from the nose.


B-17C and B-17D - Flush windows in place of blister turrets distinguished two models.


B-17E - Completely redesigned. Provided a tail-gun post in a longer fuselage.


B-17F - Plexiglas nose and greater bomb capacity. Available shortly after Pearl Harbor.


B-17G - Featured a chin turret, operated by remote control,
and glass-enclosed gun positions on the side of the fuselage.