1 February 1943: During World War II, the 414th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 12th Air Force, U.S. Army Air Forces, was on a mission to attack the docks at the port of Tunis in order to cut the supply chain to the German and Italian armies operating in Tunisia.
A single-engine Messerschmitt Bf 109G fighter defending the city collided with All American III, a Boeing B-17F-5-BO Flying Fortress, serial number 41-24406, which was under the command of Lieutenant Kendrick R. Bragg, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps. The fighter cut diagonally through the bomber’s fuselage, carried away the left horizontal stabilizer and elevator, and damaged the flight control cables.
The rugged design and construction that made the Flying Fortress a legend allowed the airplane to fly another 90 minutes to its home base at Biskra Airfield, Algeria. Lieutenant Bragg made a careful landing, holding the tail off the runway as long as possible. None of the ten men aboard were injured.
All American III was repaired and was returned to service. It was reassigned to the 352nd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 301st Bombardment Group (Heavy) at St. Donat, Tunisia, and flew till nearly the end of the war. It was dismantled for salvage at Lucera Airfield, Italy, 6 March 1945.
41-24406 was assigned to the 92nd Bombardment Group at Bangor, Maine, 13 July 1942. It was flown across the Atlantic Ocean to RAF Polebrook, and reassigned to the 414th. The B-17 arrived at Maison Blanche, Algeria, 13 November 1942. It then traveled to Tafaroufi, Algeria, and then to Biskra, arriving there on Christmas Day.
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).
The B-17F Flying Fortress was armed with up to 13 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 (9,435 kilograms) over very short ranges. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) of bombs 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 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.
© 2017, Bryan R. Swopesby