The Boeing B-17 was one of the most effective and prolific combat aircraft of World War II.  Conceived and designed in 1934 in response to an Army Air Corps request for a bomber that would carry a meaningful bomb load at 10,000 feet and 200 mph for 10 hours.  The underlying requirement was for a bomber that could project defensive strength from the Hawaiian Islands and the Panama Canal Zone. 

Boeing Aircraft responded with the Model 299 prototype that first flew in July 1935.  This prototype earned the nickname “Flying Fortress” when a newspaper reporter commented on the large number of machine guns sticking out of the fuselage.  Although the Model 299 crashed during the “fly off” competition with other candidate prototypes, the Air Corps was intrigued enough by its potential that they ordered several more copies of the updated Model 299, called the YB-17.

B-17 Completion Diagram

Operational testing and development with the YB-17 led to orders for 10 B-17B aircraft in 1937 and ultimately a 1940 order for 512 aircraft.  By the end of World War II nearly 13,000 B-17 aircraft in models designated B, C, D, E, F, and G and dozens of variants with types were produced and served in every theater of the war in combat and non-combat roles.

Approximately 4,735 B-17s were lost as combat casualties during the war with another several hundred written off as “war weary”.  B17s dropped about 640l tons of the total 1.2m tons of bombs dropped over Europe during the war (about 43%).  Even though the B24 Liberator (depending on configuration) had a higher top speed, heavier bomb load, longer range, and higher ceiling, the B17 was universally admired for being easier to fly and maintain and much more survivable in combat. 

At the end of hostilities, hundreds of B17s were scrapped for recyclable materials and parts but dozens more continued in military and civilian service as transports, search and rescue aircraft, firefighting “water bombers, aerial tankers and sprayers, or survey and photography platforms along with many other uses.  There are around 45 surviving B17s (mostly in the United States) with About 4 in airworthy condition.  One of these was just lost to a midair collision on November 12, 2022, during an airshow in Texas.  Many others are undergoing reconstruction to keep the legend, and the reality, of the B17 alive.  One of these is the “Desert Rat”.

  • B-17 Nacelle #3 Firewall
    B-17 Nacelle #3 Firewall