Witness AFHMs impressive display dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen and experience the dedication of the men who, despite military and social prejudice, turned intentions into action. Their incredible record as bomber escorts was instrumental in many of the successful missions of the infamous B-17 Flying Fortress.
This B-17 World War II aircraft was first developed in the 1930’s for the military branch known at that time as the United States Army Air Corps. Along with Douglas and Martin, Boeing competed for the B-17 contract but outperformed both competitors and even exceeded the Army Air Corps’ expectations. The initial flight for the B-17 (Model 299) was in July of 1935. While reporting on this initial flight, when Seattle Time’s reporter, Richard Williams, saw the multiple machine gun installations on the aircraft, he dubbed it the “Flying Fortress”. This nickname was quickly trademarked by Boeing. Because the Army Air Corps was so impressed with Boeing’s B-17 debut, it arranged for 13 additional B17s to be manufactured for further evaluation.
The four-engine heavy bomber first saw battle in World War II in 1941 in the RAF and before the war’s end, would equip a total of 32 overseas combat groups. One of the benefits of the Flying Fortress was the then-secret Norden Bombsight, a device capable of determining when the aircraft’s bombs should be released in order to accurately hit an intended target. The bomb’s release could be determined by using variables input by the bombardier. The bombardier would basically take over control of the aircraft’s flight during the bomb run, maintaining a level altitude during the final moments before the bomb’s release. Another unique feature to this plane, Boeing claimed, was its ability to continue flying even if one of the engines failed.
The B-17, whose missions were almost always during daylight hours, had an average speed of 300 mph and was capable of carrying a total bomb load up to 6,000 lbs. The flight capacity for this aircraft averaged 1,300 miles, making it capable of reaching German territory, even when taking off from its English bases. The Flying Fortress also saw active duty in the Pacific theatre where it was used to hit Japanese targets.
Throughout its history, the B-17 went through several design changes. This World War II aircraft was used by the British Royal Air Force, as well as the United States Army Air Corps, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coastguard.