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Boeing B-17 High Altitude Bomber

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First US Long Range Heavy Bomber

B-17 Flying Fortress - WWII American bomber.

The belly of ball turret can be see under the aircraft above. This is an earlier E or F model without the chin turret. USAF photo.

The Boeing B-17 was America's first long range heavy strategic bomber.

From 1942 to 1945, large formations of B-17s bombed factories and other targets of military importance in Germany and her occupied territories.

This four engine, high altitude bomber "... flew more than 290,000 sorties in the European Theatre of Operations and dropped in excess of half a million tons of bombs". Encyclopedia of Aircraft of WWII,  (p54). The belly of ball turret can be see under the aircraft in the U.S. Air Force photo above.

B-17s in formation over Germany

B-17s bombing Germany through a heavy cloud cover with the use of radar. USAF photo.

Radar for B-17 Bombing Missions

In service throughout World War II, the B-17 served mainly in Europe, but also saw some service in the Mediterranean and Pacific. The day after Pearl Harbor, an early version B-17 named The Swoose, was a survivor of the initial Japanese attack on Clark Field, in the Philippines outside Manila (December 8, 1941) and is reportedly the oldest B-17 still intact. Versions of the B-17 were used also by the the RAF, and known as Fortress IIs and IIIs.

b-17 cheek and dorsal turret

Two machine guns in the chin & dorsal turrets, and 2 cheek machine guns.

Modifications to the B-17 Defense Systems

B-17 tail turret

Two machine guns in tail gun turret (Cheyenne version). Note taller fin & rudder added for stability.

The first B-17s flew their bombing missions unescorted. Suffering great losses in the beginning of the war, the later model B-17s included several modifications which greatly aided their defense systems.The arrival of long range fighters also added to their success.

The additional armaments included two machine guns in the chin turret, two cheek machine guns, and two machine guns in the dorsal turret. The bombardier's station was in the very front of the nose. See photos above.

A tail gun turret with two machine guns was also added to cover the rear blind spot and a taller fin and rudder were added for greater stability. See left photo above.

B-17 Memphis Belle, First to Complete 25 Missions

The B-17, Memphis Belle was the first heavy bomber to successfully complete 25 combat missions at a time when the bomb group was seeing 80 percent losses.


During this time no members of the crew were lost, however, five engines had been shot out, and replacements for both wings as well as other damaged parts had been necessary. After completion of the 25 missions, the Memphis Belle returned to the United States for a war bond campaign.

By the end of the war, the B-17 bomber had proved to be a major force behind the destruction of the Third Reich. Known for its ability to fly despite serious battle damage, it was fondly regarded by her crews for bringing them home.

Color photos on this page are of the B-17G, Miss Angela, at Palm Springs Air Museum.


* B-17 Flying Fortress facts

Category Bomber
Manufacturer Boeing
Introduced 1938
Used in
US Army Air Force
Royal Air Force
Produced 1936–1945
Number built 12,726
Cruising speed 150 mph
Max. speed 287 mph
Altitude 35,000 feet service ceiling
Range 1,850  miles
* Numbers are approximate

B-17 Bombloads*

Number Size Type
2 2000 lbs Demolition
6 1000 lbs Demolition
12 500 lbs Demolition
16 300 lbs Demolition
12 500 lbs Incendiary
16 350 lbs British Incendiary
24 100 lbs Fragmentary
16 200 lbs Fragmentary
40-42 100 lbs Incendiary
Note: Sometimes Incendiary Bombs are attached to larger bombloads. Bombloads were determined by type of target.

* Information for table from sign at Palm Springs Air Museum.


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