Tag Archives: Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress

17 August 1942

A flight of Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress bombers forms up over England, 1942. “Yankee Doodle,” 41-9023, is just to the left of center. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker (Margaret Bourke-White/LIFE)

17 August 1942: Mission No. 1. The United States VIII Bomber Command made its first heavy bomber attack on Nazi-occupied Europe when eighteen Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress four-engine bombers of the 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at RAF Polebrook, Northamptonshire, England, headed for the railroad marshaling yards at Rouen-Sotteville, France. This was the largest and most active railroad yard in northern France.

The group began takeoffs at 1530 hours. It was escorted by several squadrons of Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire fighters.

While six B-17s flew along the French coast as a diversion, twelve bombers flew to Rouen and were over the target from 1739 to 1746. From an altitude of 23,000 feet (7,010 meters), they dropped 39,000 pounds (17,690 kilograms) of general purpose bombs.

Accuracy was good. One of the aim points, the locomotive shops, was destroyed by a direct hit. The overall results were moderate.

Rouen-Sotteville target assesment photograph. (U.S. Air Force)
Rouen-Sotteville target assessment photograph. (U.S. Air Force)

All of the bombers returned to their base, with the first landing at 1900. Two B-17s had been damaged. American gunners claimed damage to one Luftwaffe airplane.

brigadier General Ira C. Eaker commanded the raid from this Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress, 41-9023, Yankee Doodle, here being serviced between missions. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker commanded Mission No. 1 from this Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress, 41-9023, Yankee Doodle, shown here being serviced between missions. This bomber survived the War. (U.S. Air Force)

The raid was commanded by Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker aboard Yankee Doodle, B-17E 41-9023, leading the second flight of six B-17s. The 97th Bombardment Group Commander, Colonel Frank A. Armstrong, Jr., flew as the co-pilot of the lead ship, Butcher Shop, B-17E 41-2578, with pilot Major Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. Tibbets was in command of the 97th’s 340th Bombardment Squadron. (He would later command the 509th Composite Group and fly the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay.)

Colonel Frank A. Armstrong in the pilot's position of a Boeing B-17 (Imperial War Museum, Roger Freeman Collection, Object Number FRE 890)
Colonel Frank Alton Armstrong, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army, commanding the 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy), in the pilot’s position of a Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress. (Imperial War Museum)

The Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress was a major redesign. A new aft fuselage was used, incorporating larger vertical and horizontal stabilizers. A tail turret was added. A power-operated gun turret was added at dorsal and ventral positions.

The Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 73 feet, 10 inches (22.504 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9-3/8 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 2 inch (5.842 meters). Its empty weight was 32,350 pounds (14,674 kilograms), 40,260 pounds (18,262 kilograms) gross weight, and the maximum takeoff weight was 53,000 pounds (24,040 kilograms).

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2587, 97th Bombardment Group, photographed 17 August 1942. (Imperial War Museum, Roger Freeman Collection, Object Number FRE 4053)
Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2578, 97th Bombardment Group, photographed 17 August 1942. (Imperial War Museum)

The B-17E was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liters) Wright Cyclone G666A (R-1820-65) 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. 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-1820-65 was 47.59 inches (1.209 meters) long and 55.12 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms). 8,422 of these engines were produced by Wright Aeronautical Division and its licensees between February 1940 and August 1942.

The B-17E had a cruise speed of 195 miles per hour (314 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 318 miles per hour (512 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 36,600 feet (11,156 meters).

With a normal fuel load of 2,490 gallons (9,426 liters) the B-17E had a maximum range of 3,300 miles (5,311 kilometers). Carrying a 4,000 pound (1,814 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers).

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2578, lead ship on the 17 August 1942 air raid on Rouen-Sotteville, France. By the end of the war, this airplane was the oldest, longest-serving B-17E in the USAAF.
Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2578, the lead ship on the 17 August 1942 air raid on Rouen-Sotteville, France, flown by Major Paul W. Tibbets, photographed at RAF Bovingdon, 1943. By the end of the war, this airplane was the oldest, longest-serving B-17E in the USAAF. (Imperial War Museum)

The B-17E Flying Fortress was armed with one .30-caliber Browning M2 Aircraft Machine Gun and eight Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns. The .30 was mounted in the nose.  Power turrets mounting two .50-caliber guns, each, were located at the dorsal and ventral positions. (The first 112 B-17Es were built with a remotely-operated turret in the belly position, sighted by a periscope. A manned ball turret replaced this.) Two machine guns were in a tail turret, and one on each side at the waist.

The maximum bomb load of the B-17E was 20,800 pounds (9,435 kilograms) over very short distances. 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 1,000 pound (454 kilogram) or four 2,000 pound (907 kilogram) bombs.

The B-17 Flying Fortress first flew in 1935, and was in production from 1937 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing. 512 of the total were B-17Es. The last one was completed 28 May 1942. Production shifted to the further-improved B-17F.

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2509, flying over the Florida Keys, circa 1942. (United States Air Force via Getty Images)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 August 1942

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2656, “Chief Seattle from the Pacific Northwest,” during a test flight near Seattle, Washington, March 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

9 August 1942: Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2656, Chief Seattle from the Pacific Northwest, took off from 7 Mile Drome, an airfield near Port Moresby, Territory of Papua,  New Guinea, on its first combat mission. This was a reconnaissance of Rabaul and Kavieng. Mission elapsed time, 8 hours, 40 minutes.

435th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 19th Bombardment Group (Heavy), Fifth Air Force,

Crew of Chief Seattle at 7 Mile Drome, 11 August 1942. Front row, left to right, Sgt Dennis Craig, Sgt. Tomas Wood. Standing, Sgt Quentin Lakely, Pvt Philip Zumwalt, Sgt. Leslie Stewart, Lt. John Pickering, Lt. Morris Friedman, Lt. Haskell Wexler, Sgt Meyer Levin. (United Press)

Sponsored by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, citizens of Seattle contributed $230,535 in War Bonds to purchase the airplane. Delivered to USAAF by the Mayor of Seattle, Earl Milliken P.G. Johnson in a ceremony held 5 March 1942.

Aerial photograph of 7 Mile Drome (Jackson Airfield), 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
B-17s parked in revetments at 7 Mile Drome, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Flown by another crew, 41-2656 was shot down at 7:40 a.m., 14 August 1942, over the Solomon Sea by three Mitsubishi A6M3 Navy Type 0 Model 32 (Allied reporting name, “Hamp”) fighters of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Defensive fire from the bomber damaged at least one Zero, but it was able to return to its base.

The B-17E went down at sea. Its crew were listed as missing, presumed killed in action (KIA). They were 1st Lt. Wilson O. Cook, pilot; F/Sgt. George S. Andrews, co-pilot; 2nd Lt. Hubert S. Mobley, navigator; 2nd Lt. Joseph R. Cunningham, bombardier; SSGT Elwyn O Rahier, Engineer; SSGT John J. Dunbar, assistant engineer; T/Sgt. Irving W. Michael, radio operator; Cpl. Charles M. Hartman, asst. radio; Pvt. David B. Beattie, gunner; and Cpl. Richard K. Pastor, gunner.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 June 1943

Lieutenant Colonel William.R. Lovelace II, M.D., U.S. Army Medical Corps, receives the Distinguished Flying Cross from General Henry H. Arnold, Commanding General, U.S. Army Air Forces. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel William.R. Lovelace II, M.D., Medical Corps, United States Army, receives the Distinguished Flying Cross from General Henry H. Arnold, Commanding General, U.S. Army Air Forces. (U.S. Air Force)

24 June 1943: At 12:33 p.m., Lieutenant Colonel William Randolph Lovelace II, M.D., Medical Corps, United States Army, made a record-setting parachute jump from a Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress over Ephrata, Washington, while testing high-altitude oxygen equipment. The altitude was 40,200 feet (12,253 meters). This was his first parachute jump.

Dr. Lovelace returned to Earth after a 23 minute, 51 second descent. This was the highest altitude parachute jump made up to that time.

Lovelace used a Type T-5 back-pack parachute which was opened by a static line attached to the bomber. The shock of the sudden opening of the 28 foot (8.5 meters) diameter parachute caused Lovelace to lose consciousness. He came to at about 30,000 feet (9,144 meters).

Lieutenant Colonel William R. Lovelace II, M.D., Medical Corps, United States Army, wearing a pressure mask, oxygen bottle an parachute, prior to teh high-altitude jump, 24 June 1943. (Lovelace Respiratory Research Insititute)
Lieutenant Colonel William R. Lovelace II, M.D., Medical Corps, United States Army, wearing a re-breathing pressure mask, Type H-2 oxygen bottle and Type T-5 parachute, prior to the high-altitude jump, 24 June 1943. (Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute)

“On active duty with the Army Air Corps as a colonel during World War II, Lovelace used himself as a test subject in further experiments on the problems of high-altitude escape and parachuting. On June 24, 1943, he made his first parachute jump, bailing out of an aircraft 40,200 feet [12,253 meters] above Washington State. Although he was knocked unconscious by the opening shock of the parachute at the high altitude, and his hand was frostbitten when one of his gloves was torn away, valuable data was gained from his ordeal and he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the experiment. He returned to private practice after the war, and in 1947, founded the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

—International Space Hall of Fame at the New Mexico Museum of Space History

Lieutenant Colonel William R. Lovelace II, M.D., Medical Corps, United States Army, lying on the ground after a parachute jump from a B-17 at 40,200 feet, 24 June 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 June 1942, 0430: Admiral Nagumo Attacks

Midway Atoll, looking from east to west. Eastern Island in foreground, Sand Island in background. (U.S. Navy)

4 June 1942: The Battle of Midway: The Japanese naval task force (First Mobile Force) under Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, consisting of the aircraft carriers IJN Agagi, IJN Kaga, IJN Hiryu and IJN Soryu, along with their escorts of battleships, cruisers, destroyers and supporting tankers, launched the first attack at 0430 against the United States base at Midway Island. The attackers consisted of 36 Aichi D3A dive bombers, 36 Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers and 36 Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters as escort.

The incoming aircraft were detected by radar on the island and defending U.S. Marines fighters—obsolescent Grumman F4F Wildcats and obsolete Brewster F2A Buffalos—were launched to defend the island’s airstrip and facilities. 15 U.S. Army Air Force B-17E Flying Fortress heavy bombers and 4 Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers took off to attack the Japanese carriers.

The Marine fighters were outnumbered and technologically inferior. 4 of the F4Fs and all 12 F2As were shot down. The Japanese lost 4 torpedo bombers and 3 Zero fighters. Facilities on the island were heavily damaged by the dive bomber attack, but it was not put out of action.

IJN Hiryu evading B-17 bomber attack at Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 June 1942, 1624: First Attack

USAAF Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bomber takes off at Midway Island during the Battle of Midway. (U.S. Air Force)

3 June 1942: After a U.S. Navy PBY patrol bomber sighted a task force of the Japanese fleet approaching Midway Island, nine U.S. Army Air Force Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress heavy bombers launched from the island at 1230 hours.

At 1624 hours, the bomber force located Admiral Raizo Tanaka’s Midway Occupation Group 570 miles (917 kilometers) west of the island. They attacked in three flights of three, at 8,000, 10,000 and 12,000 feet (2,440, 3,050 and 3,660 meters). Although they reported damage to several ships, in fact none were hit.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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