The B17 is arguably the best known heavy bomber from WWII. Followed closely by it's direct successor the B29 SuperFortress it symbolizes the best of WWII's heavy Bombers. The B17 was one of the planes that barely made it into the war. In 1934 the then very small Boeing company had a prototype four engined bomber design called the B-299 but it had not been ordered by the US military. It had suffered several serious setbacks in it's design competition including a crash during a fly-off. Boeing continued work the plane and eventually secured a small service test order and the troubled early history of the bomber began.
The B17 and bombers like it were planes created as "strategic bombers". The essential idea was that a strategic bomber should be able to carry a very large payload for long distances. The military had come to the realization that bombing technology was by nature imprecise even with new advances like the American Norden sight, and what was required was a large number of bombs delivered by large number of planes to assure that a target was destroyed. Although the Germans actually had a decent "smart bomb" and the British built specialty bombs, neither was reliable, so it seemed the best idea was just to blanket the target with bombs.
An American extension to this concept was that of a self-defended bomber. Bombers could be built so tough and with so much defensive armament, it was thought, that they could simply fly to the target, drop bombs, and if necessary fight their way through fighters to get home. There would be security in the large number of bombers in formations, and the defensive capability would allow bombers to fly during the day for better accuracy in drops. It was to this design concept the B17 was built.
Early experiences in the war with B17's and B-24's could only be termed as disastrous. Loss rates of up to 25% showed the concept of unescorted bombers in daytime to be entirely wrong. Escort fighters were a necessity for success. It soon became apparent that with fighter cover the B17 really was an unparalleled strategic bomber. Success for the B17 shot up dramatically, and it's initial design specifications of huge amounts of armor and gunner positions served it well when fighters did make it close in. The Fortress had enough strength to stave off attackers until escorts showed up, and it became legendary for the incredible punishment it could take and still make it home.
Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress
Wingspan: 103 ft. 9 in.
Length: 74 ft. 9 in.
Height: 19 ft. 1 in.
Engine: 4 x Wright R-1820-97 Cyclone rated 1,200 hp.
Loaded Weight: 65,500 lb.
Maximum Speed: 287 mph.
Service Ceiling: 37,500 ft.
Combat Radius: 1,000 miles
Armaments: 6,000 lbs. of bombs, 12 x .50 cal. machine guns
||23rd March 2003, 15:42:16