The Flying Fortress

"Without the B-17, we might have lost the war."

–General Carl Spaatz, Commander, US Strategic Air Forces in Europe, 1944

Boeing launched the B-17 prototype on July 28, 1935. Known then as ‘Model 299’, it represented the ultimate in state-of-the-art technology. The plane boasted four turbo-charged engines, a hulky frame, twelve .50 caliber machine-gun mounts, and the ability to fly higher and longer than anything previously built.

The U.S. Army Air Corps designated the plane as the B-17. Used as a strategic weapon, it quickly took on a reputation of mythic proportions. Yet, by the end of WWII, technology had surpassed the B-17 and the plane was considered all but obsolete. New planes featured pressurization, hydraulics, heat, longer range, and larger bomb loads including rocket technology.

Today, in both the achievements of the plane itself and those who flew it, the B-17 remains an icon of American intelligence, resilience and achievement.


The rugged bomber simultaneously held the ability to defend itself, carry large bomb loads, absorb extensive battle damage, and still fly. During an early test flight it was nicknamed a Flying Fortress by Richard Smith, an observing reporter from the Seattle Times. Boeing embraced the catchy term and quickly trademarked it for use.

The Bomb Load

Bomb loads and type depended on the target and length of mission. Typical bomb loads carried on combat missions could be:

  • (2) 2000lb demolition bombs
  • (6) 1000lb demolition bombs
  • (12) 500lb demolition bombs
  • (16) 300lb demolition bombs
  • (12) 500lb incendiary clusters
  • (16) 250lb British incendiary bombs
  • (40)-(42) 100lb incendiary bombs
  • (24) fragmentation bombs
  • (16) 250lb fragmentation bombs
During the month of March 1945, 21,223 bombs were loaded onto 390th aircraft, by hand.

B-17 Specifications

Following its introduction, the B-17 went through five design modifications (Models A-E). A total of 645 of these early models were built (plus the prototype). Two later modifications, the B-17F and B-17G, were the primary models used in WWII.

The B-17F was used in the early war years, but proved to be vulnerable at the nose. The addition of a ‘chin turret’ in the G-model allowed for extra fire-power and protection. Other G-model modifications included plexiglass in the waist gunner windows, as well as staggered waist gunner positions.

Boeing, Douglas and Vega all produced B-17 aircraft. A total of 12, 731 planes were built, including 646 prototypes, 3405 F-models and 8680 G-models.



First flight July 28, 1935 (prototype)
Model number 299
Classification Bomber
Span 103 feet 9 inches
Length 74 feet 4 inches
Gross weight 36,135 lbs (empty)
55,000 lbs (normal load)
72,000 lbs (max load)
Speed 287 mph (max at 25k feet)
182mph (cruise at 25k feet)
Range (max.) 2,000 miles (normal)
Ceiling 35,600 feet
Power Four 1,200-horsepower Wright Cyclone R-1820 radial engines


The plane on display at the 390th Memorial Museum was loaned by the Air Force Museum in 1980. Veteran members of the 390th Bomb Group lovingly restored it to ‘combat ready’ condition, reassigning it as 42-31892, I’ll Be Around. It remains as one of the world’s only fully restored B-17s on public display.

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