Tag Archives: Boeing Airplane Company

12 January 1937

Wreck of Western Air Express Boeing 247D NC13315, Los Pinetos Peak, near newhal, California, 12 January 1937. (Santa Clarita Valley History in Pictures)
Wreck of Western Air Express Flight 7, a Boeing Model 247D, NC13315, at Los Pinetos Peak near Newhall, California, 12 January 1937. (Santa Clarita Valley History in Pictures)

12 January 1937: Western Air Express Flight 7, a Boeing 247D airliner, NC13315, had originated at Salt Lake City, Utah, and after a stop at Las Vegas, Nevada, continued on toward Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California. Aboard were a crew of three and ten passengers.

In fog and falling snow, Captain William W. Lewis and co-pilot Clifford P. Owens crossed over Saugus, California “. . . at 5,200 feet [1,585 meters], aircraft was already 300 feet [91 meters] too low. . . Pilot tried to contact Burbank without any success. Due to low visibility caused by fog, pilot did not realize he was flying at an insufficient altitude. In a descent rate of 525 feet per minute [2.667 meters per second], aircraft hit Pinetos Peak. — Bureau of Air Commerce report. The accident occurred at 11:07 a.m., Pacific Time.

According to statements after the accident, Captain Lewis suddenly saw a ridge immediately ahead, and unable to avoid it, cut his engines and raised the nose in an attempt to reduce the impact.

Boeing 247D NC13315, 12 January 1937. (Santa Clarita Valley History in Pictures)
Boeing 247D NC13315, 12 January 1937. (Santa Clarita Valley History in Pictures)

One passenger was killed immediately. The co-pilot and three more of the passengers died of injuries within the next several days.

One of those who died was famed adventurer and film maker Martin Johnson. His wife, Osa Johnson, was also aboard Flight 7 and was seriously injured. Another survivor, R.T. Anderson, would later own Pea Soup Anderson, a famous restaurant in Buellton, California.

Osa and Martin Johnson. (Osa and Martin Johnson Safari Museum)
Osa and Martin Johnson. (Osa and Martin Johnson Safari Museum)

The Boeing Model 247 is considered to be the first modern airliner because of its all-metal, semi-monocoque construction, cantilevered wing and retractable landing gear. It was 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour) faster than its contemporaries, and could climb on one engine with a full load.

The Model 247 was operated by a pilot, co-pilot and a flight attendant and carried up to ten passengers. The airplane was 51 feet, 5 inches (15.672 meters) long, with a wingspan of 74 feet, 1 inch (22.581 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 5 inches (3.785 meters). The empty weight was 8,921 pounds (4,046.5 kilograms) with a maximum takeoff weight of 16,805 pounds (7,622.6 kilograms).

The Duralamin skin panels were anodized, rather than painted, for corrosion protection. This saved weight, and resulted in the 247’s characteristic gray-green color.

Western Air Express Boeing 247D NC13315. The nose baggage compartment door is open. (Ed Coates Collection)
Western Air Express Boeing 247D NC13315. The nose baggage compartment door is open. (Ed Coates Collection)

The airliner was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liters) Pratt & Whitney Wasp S1H1-G nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.03:1. The S1H1-G had a Normal power rating of 550 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., to 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), and 600 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. for Takeoff. They drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction, when installed on the 247D. The Wasp S1H1-G was 3 feet, 11.80 inches (1.214 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.61 inches (1.311 meters) in diameter, and weighed 930 pounds (422 kilograms).

The Boeing 247 had a maximum speed of 200 miles per hour (321.9 kilometers per hour) with a cruising speed of 188 miles per hour (302.6 kilometers per hour. It had a range of 745 miles (1,199 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 25,400 feet (7,742 meters).

75 Model 247s were built. 60 were bought by Boeing Air Transport.

[Note: the windshield was canted forward to prevent instrument panel lighting from reflecting into the cockpit at night. Unfortunately, ground lighting was reflected instead. This was soon changed to a rearward slant and resulted in a slight increase in speed.]

Western Air Express Boeing 247D NC13315, 1933. (SCVhistory.com)
Western Air Express Boeing 247D NC13315, 1933. (Santa Clarita Valley History in Pictures)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 December 1964

The first Boeing KC-135A-BN Statotanker, 55-3118, City of Renton, refuels B-52C-50-BO Stratofortress 54-2676. (U.S. Air Force)
The first Boeing KC-135A-BN Statotanker, 55-3118, City of Renton, refuels B-52C-50-BO Stratofortress 54-2676. (U.S. Air Force)

30 December 1964: The United States Air Force accepted the last of 732 Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers, KC-135A serial number 64-14840. The new tanker was assigned to the 380th Air Refueling Squadron at Plattsburgh Air Force Base, new York.

Fifty-two years later, 414 KC-135s are still in service. It is estimated that the fleet is 33% through their design lifetime limits.

Built as an aerial refueling tanker to support the U.S. Air Force fleet of B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers, an initial order for 24 tankers was soon increased to 250. Eventually 732 KC-135As were built by Boeing, and an additional 81 of other versions.

With the company internal designation of Model 717, the KC-135 was developed from the Model 367-80 proof-of-concept prototype, the “Dash Eighty.” The Stratotanker is very similar in appearance to the Model 707 and 720 airliners but is structurally a different aircraft. It is also shorter than the 707 and has a smaller diameter fuselage.

Boeing KC-135R Stratotankers of the 40th Air Expeditionary Group, forward deployed to support B-52 operations. (SMSGT John Rohrer, U.S. Air Force)
Boeing KC-135R Stratotankers of the 40th Air Expeditionary Group, forward deployed to support B-52 operations. (SMSGT John Rohrer, U.S. Air Force)

The Stratotanker was originally operated by a flight crew of five: pilot, co-pilot, navigator, flight engineer and refueling boom operator. Upgrades over the decades have simplified operation and the crew has been reduced to two pilots and the boom operator.

It can carry up to 200,000 pounds (90,719 kilograms) of fuel. It can also be configured to carry cargo or as many as 32 passengers. The KC-135A was originally powered by four Pratt & Whitney J57-P-59W turbojet engines producing 13,750 pounds of thrust (61.16 kilonewtons) for takeoff, using water injection. The fleet has been re-engined with more efficient CFM International CFM56-2B1 (F108-CF-100) turbofan engines which produce 22,000 pounds of thrust (97.86 kilonewtons). The upgraded aircraft are designated KC-135R.

The tanker has a maximum speed of 580 miles per hour (933 kilometers per hour) and a range of 1,500 miles when carrying 150,000 pounds of transfer fuel. The service ceiling is 50,000 feet (15,200 meters).

The last Stratotanker built by Boeing, KC-135R 64-14840, Ohio Air National Guard. 48 years old, this is the newest Stratotanker in the United States Air Force inventory. (EOR 1)
The last Stratotanker built by Boeing, KC-135R 64-14840, Ohio Air National Guard. 52 years old, this is the newest Stratotanker in the United States Air Force inventory. (EOR 1) 

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 December 1943

Technical Sergeant Forrest L. Vosler, United States Army Air Corps (U.S. Air Force)
Technical Sergeant Forrest Lee Vosler, United States Army Air Corps (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

VOSLER, FORREST L.

(Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Corps. 358th Bomber Squadron, 303d Bomber Group.

Place and date: Over Bremen, Germany, December 20, 1943.

Entered service at: Rochester, New York. Born: July 29, 1923, Lyndonville, New York.

G.O. No.: 73, September 6, 1944.

Citation:

Forest Volser was the radio operator on this Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29664, the "Jersey Bounce Jr." (U.S. Air Force)
Forest Volser was the radio operator on this Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29664, the “Jersey Bounce Jr.” (U.S. Air Force)

For conspicuous gallantry in action against the enemy above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a radio operator-air gunner on a heavy bombardment aircraft in a mission over Bremen, Germany, on 20 December 1943. After bombing the target, the aircraft in which T/Sgt. Vosler was serving was severely damaged by antiaircraft fire, forced out of formation, and immediately subjected to repeated vicious attacks by enemy fighters. Early in the engagement a 20-mm. cannon shell exploded in the radio compartment, painfully wounding T/Sgt. Vosler in the legs and thighs. At about the same time a direct hit on the tail of the ship seriously wounded the tail gunner and rendered the tail guns inoperative. Realizing the great need for firepower in protecting the vulnerable tail of the ship, T/Sgt. Vosler, with grim determination, kept up a steady stream of deadly fire. Shortly thereafter another 20-mm. enemy shell exploded, wounding T/Sgt. Vosler in the chest and about the face. Pieces of metal lodged in both eyes, impairing his vision to such an extent that he could only distinguish blurred shapes. Displaying remarkable tenacity and courage, he kept firing his guns and declined to take first-aid treatment. The radio equipment had been rendered inoperative during the battle, and when the pilot announced that he would have to ditch, although unable to see and working entirely by touch, T/Sgt. Vosler finally got the set operating and sent out distress signals despite several lapses into unconsciousness. When the ship ditched, T/Sgt. Vosler managed to get out on the wing by himself and hold the wounded tail gunner from slipping off until the other crewmembers could help them into the dinghy. T/Sgt. Vosler’s actions on this occasion were an inspiration to all serving with him. The extraordinary courage, coolness, and skill he displayed in the face of great odds, when handicapped by injuries that would have incapacitated the average crew member, were outstanding.

Technical Sergeant Forrest L. Vosler, United States Army Air Corps, is awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, D.C. (U.S. Air Force)
Technical Sergeant Forrest L. Vosler, United States Army Air Corps, is awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, D.C., 31 August 1944. Shaking Vosler’s hand is Under Secretary of War Robert Porter Patterson, Sr. (U.S. Air Force)

Staff Sergeant Forrest Lee Vosler was the radio operator/top gunnner aboard the Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress 42-298664, Jersey Bounce, Jr., one of 21 B-17s of the 303rd Bombardment Group sent on Mission No. 90, an attack against Bremen, Germany. The bomber was under the command of 2nd Lieutenant John F. Henderson. Captain Merle R. Hungerford, an instructor pilot, acted as co-pilot. The bombers encountered heavy antiaircraft fire over the target, and were attacked by as many as 125 enemy fighters. Bombing from an altitude of  26,200 feet (7,986 meters), the B-17s dropped 24 tons of incendiary bombs.

Jersey Bounce, Jr. was hit by anti-aircraft artillery just after its bomb load was released. The number 1 engine, outboard, left wing, and the number 4 engine, outboard, right wing, were  damaged. When the B-17 slowed and dropped out of its formation, it became a target of opportunity for the Luftwaffe fighters. The crew reported that as many as ten fighters attacked, one after another. Flight engineer and top turret gunner Staff Sergeant William H. Simpkins, Jr., was credited with destroying a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter, and right waist gunner Sergeant Ralph F. Burkart shot down a Messerschmitt Me 210 twin-engine heavy fighter. Sergeant Stanley E. Moody, the left waist gunner, destroyed a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and probably shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine fighter.

The heavily-damaged bomber flew at low altitude as it headed for the North Sea, and then toward England. Vosler sent repeated distress signals which allowed search and rescue aircraft to locate the B-17. Lieutenant Henderson ditched 42-29644 within sight of land. The crew were quickly rescued by a small coastal freighter, MV Empire Sportsman. The bomber crew was then transferred to a British air-sea rescue boat.

Technical Sergeant Vosler was the third of only four enlisted airmen two be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II. After recuperating from his wounds, Vosler was discharged from the Army Air Corps. He then worked for the Veterans Administration for thirty years. Forrest Lee Vosler died 17 February 1992 at the age of 68 years. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

A Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress (B-17F-95-BO 42-30243). (U.S. Air Force)

Technical Sergeant Vosler was the radio operator aboard the Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress 42-29664, Jersey Bounce, Jr. The bomber was on its 32nd combat mission. It had been flown by at least nine different pilots.

42-29664 was delivered from the Boeing plant in Seattle to Denver, Colorado, 30 January 1943. It arrived at Salina, Kansas, 12 February 1943, and was sent on to Morrison, New Jersey, 28 February 1943, and was then flown across the Atlantic Ocean to England. The new B-17F was assigned to the 358th Bombardment Squadron, 303rd Bombardment Group, at RAF Molesworth, Cambridgeshire, England, 21 March 1943. It carried group identification markings VK-C painted on its fuselage.

The Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 74 feet, 9 inches (22.784 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9.375 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1 inch (5.187 meters). Its empty weight was 34,000 pounds (15,422 kilograms), 40,437 pounds (18,342 kilograms) loaded, and the maximum takeoff weight was 56,500 pounds (25,628 kilograms).

The B-17F was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.1-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liters) Wright Cyclone C9GC (R-1820-97) nine-cylinder radial engines with turbochargers, producing 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff and 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level. War Emergency Power was 1,380 horsepower. The Cyclones turned three-bladed constant-speed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction.  The R-1820-97 engine is 47.80 inches (1.214 meters) long and 55.10 inches (1.399 meters) in diameter. It weighs 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

These engines gave the B-17F a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed was 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet, though with War Emergency Power, the bomber could reach 325 miles per hour (523 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet for short periods.

The service ceiling was 37,500 feet (11,430 meters). With a normal fuel load of 2,520 gallons (9,540 liters) the B-17F had a maximum range of 2,880 miles (4,635 kilometers). Carrying a 6,000 pound (2,722 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers).

358th Bombardment Squadron flight crew. Most of the men in this photograph were aboard "Jersey Bounce Jr.", 20 December 1943. Front, left to right: Sgt. Edward Ruppel. ball turret gunner; T/Sgt. Forest L. Vosler, radio operator; S/Sgt. William H. Simpkins, Jr., flight engineer/top turret gunner; Sgt. Gratz, tail gunner 9replaceing teh critically wounded Sgt. George W. Burke, who was rescued by Vosler); Sgt. Raaplh F. Burkhart, waist gunner. Rear, left to right: 2nd Lt. Warren S. Wiggins, navigator; 2nd Lt. Woodrow W. Monkres, bombardier; 2 Lt. Walter J. Ames, co-pilot; 2nd Lt. John F. Henderson, aircraft commander. (U.S. Air Force)
358th Bombardment Squadron flight crew. Most of the men in this photograph were aboard “Jersey Bounce Jr.”, 20 December 1943. Front, left to right: Sgt. Edward Ruppel, ball turret gunner; T/Sgt. Forest L. Vosler, radio operator/top gunner; S/Sgt. William H. Simpkins, Jr., flight engineer/top turret gunner; Sgt. Gratz, tail gunner (replacing the critically wounded Sgt. George W. Burke, who was rescued by Vosler); Sgt. Ralph F. Burkhart, waist gunner. Rear, left to right: 2nd Lt. Warren S. Wiggins, navigator; 2nd Lt. Woodrow W. Monkres, bombardier; 2 Lt. Walter J. Ames, co-pilot; 2nd Lt. John F. Henderson, aircraft commander. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-17F Flying Fortress was armed with up to 13 air-cooled Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the dorsal and ventral positions. The maximum bomb load was 20,800 pounds over very short ranges. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs. Two external bomb racks mounted under the wings between the fuselage and the inboard engines could carry one 4,000 pound (1,814.4 kilogram) bomb, each, though this option was rarely used.

The B-17 Flying Fortress first flew in 1935, and was was in production from 1937 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The manufacturer codes -BO, -DL and -VE follows the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 3,405 of the total were B-17Fs, with 2,000 built by Boeing, 605 by Douglas and 500 by Lockheed-Vega.

Only three B-17F Flying Fortresses remain in existence.

This restored Boeing B-17F-70-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29782, is on display at The Museum of Flight at Seattle's Boeing Field. (Boeing)
This restored Boeing B-17F-70-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29782, is on display at The Museum of Flight at Seattle’s Boeing Field. (Boeing)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 December 1941

Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps, by Deane Keller, 1942.
Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps, by Deane Keller, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

10 December 1941: A single B-17C Flying Fortress heavy bomber, 40-2045, departed from Clark Field, on the island of Luzon, Commonwealth of the Philippines, alone and without escort, to search for an enemy aircraft carrier which had been reported near the coastal city of Aparri, at the northen end of the island. The aircraft was under the command of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps, 14th Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group.

Kelly’s Flying Fortress had not been fully fueled or armed because of an impending Japanese air raid. It carried only three 600-pound (272 kilogram) demolition bombs in its bomb bay.

While enroute to their assigned target area, Captain Kelly and his crew sighted a Japanese amphibious assault task force north of Aparri, including what they believed was a Fusō-class battleship. The crew was unable to locate the reported aircraft carrier and Kelly decided to return to attack the ships that they had seen earlier.

A 19th Bombardment Group Boeing B-17C at Iba Airfield, Philipiine Islands, September 1941.
A Boeing B-17C assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group at Iba Airfield, approximately 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Manila on the island of Luzon, Commonwealth of the Philippine Islands, October 1941. (U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency)

Kelly made two passes at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) while the bombardier, Sergeant Meyer Levin, set up for a precise drop. On the third run, Sergeant Meyer released the three bombs in trail and bracketed the Nagara-class light cruiser IJN Natori. It and an escorting destroyer, IJN Harukaze, were damaged by near misses.

“. . . The battleship [actually, the light cruiser IJN Natori] was seen about 4 miles offshore and moving slowly parallel with the coastline. . . A quartering approach to the longitudinal axis of the ship was being flown. The three bombs were released in train as rapidly as the bombardier could get them away. The first bomb struck about 50 yards short, the next alongside, and the third squarely amidship. . . A great cloud of smoke arose from the point of impact. The forward length of the ship was about 10 degrees off center to portside. The battleship began weaving from side to side and headed toward shore. Large trails of oil followed in its wake. . . .”

Narrative Report of Flight of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Air Corps, O-20811 (deceased) on Dec 10, 1947, by Eugene L. Eubank, Colonel, Air Corps, Commanding, Headquarters, 5th Bomber Command, Malang, Java, Feb 19, 1942

IJN Natori
IJN Natori (Mikasa Memorial Museum)
SAKAI, Saburo
PO1 Saburō Sakai, Imperial Japanese Navy

A group of Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 (“Zero”) fighters of the Tainan Kokutai, including the famed fighter ace Petty Officer First Class Saburō Sakai, attacked Kelly’s bomber as it returned to Clark Field, with the first pass killing Technical Sergeant William J. Delehanty and wounding Private First Class Robert E. Altman. The instrument panel was destroyed and oxygen tanks exploded. A second pass by the fighters set the bomber’s left wing on fire. This quickly spread to the fuselage. The two engines on the right wing failed.

Captain Kelly ordered his crew to bail out and though the fire had spread to the flight deck, Kelly remained at the bomber’s controls. Staff Sergeant James E. Halkyard, Private First Class Willard L. Money, and Private Altman were able to escape from the rear of the B-17. The navigator, Second Lieutenant Joe M. Bean, and the bombardier, Sergeant Levin, went out through the nose escape hatch. As co-pilot Lieutenant Donald Robins tried to open the cockpit’s upper escape hatch, the Flying Fortress exploded. Robins was thrown clear and was able to open his parachute.

Boeing B-17C 40-2045 crashed five miles (8 kilometers) east of Clark Field. The bodies of Captain Kelly and Sergeant Delehanty were found at the crash site.

“The wreckage was found along a rural road 2 miles west of Mount Aryat (Mount Aryat is about 5 miles east of Clark Field). The tail assembly was missing. Parts . . . were scattered over an area of 500 yards. The right wing with two engines still in place remained almost intact although it was burning when the search party arrived. The fuselage and left side of the plane were badly wrecked and burned. T/Sgt Delehanty’s body was lying about 50 yards north of the wreckage. Capt Kelly’s body . . . was found very near the wreckage with his parachute unopened. . . .”

Narrative Report of Flight of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Air Corps, O-20811 (deceased) on Dec 10, 1947, by Eugene L. Eubank, Colonel, Air Corps, Commanding, Headquarters, 5th Bomber Command, Malang, Java, Feb 19, 1942

Captain Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr., United States Army Air Corps. (The New York Times)

Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr. was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, posthumously. The medal was presented to Mrs. Colin P. Kelly, Jr., by Major General Barney McKinney Giles, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Kelly’s B-17 was the first Flying Fortress to be lost in air combat in World War II.

Boeing B-17C 40-2049, similar to Colin Kelly's 40-2045. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-17C 40-2049, similar to Colin Kelly’s 40-2045. (U.S. Air Force)

The Boeing Model 299H, designated B-17C, was the second production variant ordered by the U.S. Army Air Corps. 38 were built by Boeing, however 20 of these were transferred to Great Britain’s Royal Air Force, designated Fortress B.I. They were initially assigned to No. 90 Squadron. (A 1941 book, War Wings: Fighting Airplanes of the American and British Air Forces, by David C. Cooke, published by Robert M. McBride & Company, New York, refers to the B-17C in British service as the “Seattle,” which is in keeping with the R.A.F.’s system of naming bombers after cities.)

The B-17C was 67 feet, 10.6 inches (20.691 meters long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9 inches (31.633 meters) and the overall height was 15 feet, 5 inches (4.699 meters). The B-17C had an empty weight of 29,021 pounds (13,164 kilograms), gross weight of 39,320 pounds (17,835 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 49,650 pounds (22,521 kilograms).

It was powered by four 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 C666A (R-1820-65) nine-cylinder radial engines. These engines were rated at 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff. They drove three-bladed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a gear reduction. The R-1820-65 was 47.59 inches (1.209 meters) long, 55.12 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

A Boeing B-17C assigned to Wright Field in pre-war natural metal finish. (LIFE Magazine)
A Boeing B-17C assigned to Wright Field in natural metal finish, circa 1940. (Hans Groenhoff Photographic Collection, National Air and Space Museum Archives)

The maximum speed of the B-17C was 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). Its service ceiling was 37,000 feet (11,278 meters) and the maximum range was 3,400 miles (5,472 kilometers).

The B-17C could carry 4,800 pounds (2,177 kilograms) of bombs. Defensive armament consisted of one .30-caliber air-cooled machine gun and four .50-caliber machine guns.

According to one source, all eighteen B-17Cs in service with the Army Air Corps were returned to Boeing in January 1941 to be upgraded to the B-17D configuration.

A Boeing B-17C Flying Fortress, similar to 40-2045. (U.S. Air Force)
A Boeing B-17C Flying Fortress, similar to Colin Kelly’s 40-2045. The Air Corps began camouflaging its B-17s in olive drab and neutral gray during Spring 1941. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 December 1936

Boeing YB-17 Flying Fortress 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 Flying Fortress 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

2 December 1936: The first Boeing YB-17, U.S. Army Air Corps serial number 36-149, made its first flight.

Although the prototype Boeing Model 299, NX13372, had crashed at Wright Field, Ohio, 30 October 1935, the Army had ordered thirteen Y1B-17 service test aircraft, serials 36-149–36-161. Prior to the model’s first flight, this designation was changed to YB-17.

Boeing YB-17. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

The YB-17 had several improvements over the Model 299, which was retroactively designated XB-17. There was a long carburetor intake on top of the engine nacelles which visually distinguishes the YB-17 from the follow-on YB-17A. The main landing gear has one strut rather than the two of the Model 299.

Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

The Boeing Model 299B, designated YB-17 by the Army Air Corps, was 68 feet, 4 inches (20.828 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9 inches (31.633 meters) and the overall height was 18 feet, 4 inches (5.588 meters). It had an empty weight of 24,465 pounds (11,097 kilograms), gross weight of 34,880 pounds (15,821 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 42,600 pounds (19,323 kilograms).

Boeing Y1B-17 at Hamilton Field, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo)
A Boeing YB-17 at Hamilton Army Airfield, north of San Francisco, California.  (U.S. Air Force photo)

Instead of the Pratt & Whitney engines installed on the 299, the YB-17 had four air-cooled, supercharged 1,823.1-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 R-1820G5 (R-1820-39) nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.45:1. They turned three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 16:11 gear reduction drive, in order to match the engines’ effective power range with the propellers. The R-1820-39 was rated at 805 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and 930 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., at Sea Level, for takeoff. The R-1820-39 was 45-7/16 inches (1.154 meters) long and 54¼ inches (1.378 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,198 pounds (543.4 kilograms).

The cruise speed was 217 miles per hour (349 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 256 miles per hour (412 kilometers per hour) at 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). Its service ceiling was 30,600 feet (9,327 meters) and the maximum range was 3,320 miles (5,343 kilometers). The YB-17 could carry 8,000 pounds (3,629 kilograms) of bombs. Defensive armament consisted of five .30-caliber air-cooled Browning machine guns.

Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

36-149 was damaged in a landing accident 7 December 1936. It was repaired and then flown to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 11 January 1937. After testing at Wright Field, 36-149 was delivered to the 2nd Bombardment Group, Langley Field, Virginia. By 1938 the bomber was back at Wright Field for additional tests.

“In the summer of 1938, Bill [Captain William C. Bentley, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps, a B-17 test pilot at Langley Field] and his aircrew flew back to Seattle to pick up an additional aircraft, YB-17 tail number 36-149 from Boeing. This aircraft was different from the original thirteen. During its assembly phase at Boeing, it was packed with additional instruments for recording purposes. Once delivered to Langley, the plane was going to be subjected to a variety of stress tests in order to determine how much damage the plane could take and still operate. During its flight to Langley, Bill arrived over the field in a thunderstorm. The strength of the storm flipped the plane upside down, a stress never envisioned by the designers for such a large aircraft, much less one loaded to capacity with measuring instrumentation and a full crew. Using his fighter pilot training, Bill flew the aircraft at its maximum altitude then performed a slow roll to bring the airplane into its proper attitude. After recovering from a harrowing spin, Bill got control of the plane and landed successfully.

“Much to the crew’s amazement, the wings were slightly bent and some rivets were missing. But the measuring instrumentation had recorded all of the stress placed on the plane. . . .”

—The Touch of Greatness: Colonel William C. Bentley, Jr., USAAC/USAF, by Stewart W. Bentley, Jr., Ph.D. , AuthorHouse, Bloomington, Indiana, 2010, Chapter 2 at Page 45.

(This meant that a fourteenth YB-17, which had been built specifically as a static test article, could be completed as a Y1B-17A, 37-369.)

In October 1940 36-149 was transferred to the 19th Bombardment Group at March Field, California. Finally, on 11 February 1942, it was transferred to the Air Park at Amarillo Army Air Field, a B-17 training base in Texas. It was written off 11 December 1942.

After several years of testing, the YB-17 went into production as the B-17 Flying Fortress. By the end of World War II, 12,731 B-17s had been built by Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed Vega.

Boeing YB-17 36-139 arrives at Langley Field, Virginia, 1 March 1937. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-139 arrives at Langley Field, Virginia, 1 March 1937. (U.S. Air Force)
A Boeing YB-17 heavy bomber at Langley Field, Virginia, 1 March 1937. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-149 at Langley Field, Virginia, 1 March 1937. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-149 at the Golden Gate International Exposition, Treasure Island, California, ca. 1939. (Stephen Fisher)
Boeing YB-17 36-149 at the Golden Gate International Exposition, Treasure Island, California, ca. 1939. (Stephen Fisher)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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