The B-17 Flying Fortress is one of the most famous and recognizable aircraft from World War II today. One B-17 airplane was even the subject of two popular films, both of which are entitled Memphis Belle.
On July 28, 1935, the B-17 made its first flight. Though not many B-17s had yet been manufactured when the United States entered the Second World War, military strategists recognized the plane’s value and quickly increased production. Primarily, the four-engine heavy bomber took part in daylight bombing raids on German industrial targets. The U.S. Air Force flew the B-17 from Allied bases located in Italy and England as part of the Fifteenth Air Force and Eighth Air Force respectively.
The B-17 Flying Fortress was especially popular with her crew because she could endure fierce punishment and survive massive damage from enemy fire but still limp back to base for a safe landing, thus often saving the lives of her crew.
As production of the B-17 continued, modifications were incorporated and the airplane evolved into the B-17G, of which more than 8,500 were manufactured by Boeing, Lockheed-Vega, and Douglas. In all there were 12,726 B-17 Flying Fortresses manufactured before production ended in May of 1945.
Several restored B-17 Flying Fortresses are still flying today and are available for public charter. Many other B-17s are on display in museums. The Memphis Belle is now located at the National Museum of the United States Air Force where it had been undergoing restoration work since it arrived there in October of 2005.
Maximum speed: 300 mph
Cruise speed: 170 mph
Range: 1,850 miles
Ceiling: 35,000 ft
Length: 74 ft. 4 in.
Wingspan: 103 ft. 10 in.
Height: 19 ft. 1 in.
Maximum weight: 55,000 lbs
Empty weight: 36,135 lb
Engine(s): Four 1,200 hp Wright Cyclone R-1820s
Rate of climb: 900 ft per minute
Crew: 10, including the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier and nose gunner, top turret gunner and flight engineer, radio operator, ball turret gunner, tail gunner, and two waist gunners.
Armament: 6,000 lbs of bombs and 13 .50-cal. machine guns.
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