Large Multi-engine Bomber
It was developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) in a request for the army’s demand for a large multi-engine bomber. A Boeing design team began to work on the Model 299 prototype in June 1934 and construction began in August of the same year amidst competition from Douglas and Martin to win a contract to produce 200 bombers.
B-17 Model 299
Model 299 took its first flight on July 28, 1935 and almost immediately set some ground breaking records. However, the prototype crashed after only 40 flight hours because the elevator gust-lock was still engaged. The crash made Boeing to lose the contract, but the performance of the B-17 prototype exceeded the Air Corp expectation, and that impressed them greatly, that they ordered 13 more B-17 for further evaluation.
The B-17 was armed with bombs and five 30-caliber machine guns mounted in clear “blisters”. It is a four-engine heavy bomber aircraft. The B-17 was the first Boeing military aircraft with a flight deck instead of an open cockpit.
From its introduction, the B-17 flying fortress has evolved through numerous design advances. The different variants were XB-38 Flying Fortress, YB-40 Flying Fortress and XC-108 Flying Fortress. Cargo conversions of the B-17 were known as XC-108. A total of 6,981 B-17s were built by Boeing plants in different models, also Douglas and Lockheed (Vega) built 5,745 under a national collaborative effort.
They were called BVD i.e., Boeing, Vega and Douglas. However, B-17 is no more in existence as most were scrapped at the end of the war and some of the last flying fortresses got extinct as target drones in the 1960s- destroyed by Boeing Bomarc missiles.
B-17 Deployed for Daylight Missions
The B-17 was primarily employed by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) in the daylight attack during World War II against Germany industrial and military targets so that they could strike their targets with precision, but this resulted in higher casualties.
The B-17 also participated in the War in the Pacific, early in the World War II, where it conducted raids against Japanese shipping and airfields and obtained a terrific reputation with the Japanese who called them “four-engine fighters”.
The USAAC (later USAAF) touted the aircraft as a strategic weapon which in the real sense was defensive weapon. As this was confirmed by General Hap Arnold about the 100 mile limit, in later years “As far as I know… that directive has never been rescinded. A literal -minded judge advocate might be able to find that every B-17, B-24 or B-29 that bombed Germany or Japan did so in technical violation of a standing order”.
B-17 a Legend
B-17 became legendary for its ability to stay in the air after sustaining extensive battle damage and still return home which increased its iconic status. With a service ceiling greater than any of its Allied contemporaries, the B-17 established itself as an effective weapons system, dropping more bombs than any other US aircraft in World War II.
The Air Corps purchased 12,725 B-17 type aircraft, which served with the Royal Air Force Coastal Command and the United States Army Air Force. The B-17 was later developed into a Boeing 307.