Little Bits of History

B-17 Flying Fortress

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 28, 2012


July 28, 1935: Model 299 is taken up for its first test flight. On August 8, 1934 the US Army Air Corps enjoined private manufacturers to create a replacement for the Martin B-10. The new planes were to carry a “useful bombload” at an altitude of 10,000 feet. The planes must be able to fly for ten hours with a top speed of 200 mph. It would be useful if the planes had a range of 2,000 miles and could hit speeds of 250 mph, but these were not requirements. Douglas, Martin, and Boeing brought their planes to a “fly off” held at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio.

Boeing brought their prototype B-17, designed by a team led by E. Gifford Emery and Edward Curtis Wells. The plane was built at Boeing’s expense and was a cross between a Boeing XB-15 and the Boeing 247. It could hold 4,800 pounds of bombs on two racks behind the cockpit and was also armed with five 0.30 inch machine guns. It was powered by four Pratt & Whitney R-1690 engines giving the plane 750 horsepower. First flown on this day, Seattle Times reporter Richard Williams called the plane a “Flying Fortress.” Boeing loved the name and actually had it trademarked.

On August 20, the plane flew from Seattle to Wright Field in nine hours and three minutes with an average speed of 235 mph, much faster than the competition. Boeing’s entry outperformed the other two entrants, both of which were twin-engine planes. Top brass was impressed and even before the end of the competition, they suggested buying 65 planes. On October 30, Major Ployer Peter Hill and Les Tower took the plane up. They forgot to disengage the “gust lock” and as they climbed, the plane stalled and crashed, killing both men. The 65 plane order was cancelled.

Even so, the Air Force was impressed with the plane. With some modifications, a YB-17 was ordered and 13 were produced by December 1936. None were shipped in 1937 and only 1 went out in 1938. In 1939, 39 were produced and 38 more were made in 1940. Each year saw a bit of development and each set of planes was given a bit different designation. In 1941, there were 42 B-17D planes and 512 B-17E planes produced. The next year saw over 3,400 planes produced. Before they went out of production, 12,731 B-17 planes were made, including the first – Model 299.

Why, it’s a flying fortress! – Richard Williams, reporter for the Seattle Times, upon seeing a B-17

She was a Stradivarius of an airplane… – Colonel Robert Morgan, pilot of the Memphis Belle

The plane can be cut and slashed almost to pieces by enemy fire and bring its crew home. –  Wally Hoffman, B-17 Pilot, 8th Air Force

The mightiest ever built. – Description of a B-17 by a member of the 8th Army Air Force

Also on this day:

Dusting for Prints – In 1858, fingerprints are first used – sorta.
Motormouth – In 1958, Lord Jellico spoke for the first time in 19 years.
Plane Flies into Building in New York – In 1945, the Empire State Building was hit by a plane.

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