What’s a B-17?

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The B-17, also known as the “Flying Fortress,” was a heavily armored, four-engine aircraft used in World War II. It was armed with nine machine guns and 4,000 pounds of bombs, and played an important role in women’s rights. Over 13,000 were produced, with 14 still in airworthy condition as of 2009.

A B-17 is a single-wing, four-engine aircraft that was used primarily during World War II. The model used in wartime had nine machine guns and 4,000 pounds (1,184 kg) of bombs. It was heavily armored to withstand the increasing power of enemy fire.

The B-17 was originally called the Model 299 and was the result of a United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) competition. The 1934 contest called for a replacement for the Keystone biplane bombers in service at the time. Boeing developed the B-17 based on competition requirements: a range of at least 1,020 miles (1,641 km), with 2,200 miles (3,540 km) preferred; a speed of at least 200 mph (322 km/h), with 250 mph (402 km/h) being preferred; and the ability to carry at least 2,000 lbs (907 kg) of bombs.

When the B-17 was introduced to the press, the armory impressed them so much that it was dubbed the “Flying Fortress.” The B-17 was armed with not only 4,000 pounds of bombs, but also five .30 caliber machine guns that were contained within transparent bubbles. Those who manned the bubble below the plane were called “belly gunners.” Instead of the open cockpit that had been standard for previous Boeing aircraft, the Flying Fortress had a contained flight deck.

The British Royal Air Force was the first to use the B-17 for combat purposes. At that time, the United States had not yet been involved in conflicts abroad and did not require the use of such heavily armed aircraft. When the United States entered World War II, the bomber was in heavy production and became an integral part of the United States Army.

The ability to perform precision firing and bombing efforts gave the B-17 a killer reputation, while its endurance was unmatched. The Japanese called it the “four-engine fighter” since most fighter planes had one or two engines. Reports from the field claimed that a B-17 would often return from a campaign with pieces of the airframe blown off, but still in flight.

Aside from its deadly reputation, the B-17 played an important role in women’s rights. The B-17 was the primary aircraft in use by the WASPs (Women Air Force Service Pilots). More than 1,000 women were part of this elite group of pilots and provided essential air support during the course of World War II.

There were nearly 13,000 B-17s produced between 1942 and 1945. Some of the most famous include the Memphis Belle, Texas Raiders, and Nine-O-Nine. As of 2009, there were approximately 14 B-17s still in airworthy condition. Some were housed in museums while others toured the world as part of exhibitions and airshows.

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