The Flying Fortress

On todays date in aviation history; December 2nd, 1936; The Boeing YB-17 of the U.S. Army Air Corps completed its maiden flight.

After several years of testing, the YB-17 went into production as one of the most famous bombers in aviation history....the B-17 Flying Fortress.

The 17 became well known as a long-range bomber that was able to defend itself with five .30-caliber air-cooled machine guns, and her most honourable reputation of bringing her crews home despite extensive battle damage. Her reputation quickly took on mythic proportions, with widely circulated stories and photos being sent back home of B-17s surviving with normally unsurvivable battle damage had only served to increase the 17's iconic status. By the end of World War II, 12,731 B-17s were built; each with operational ceiling greater than any of its Allied contemporaries, the B-17 established itself as an effective weapons system, dropping more bombs than any other U.S. aircraft in World War II. The B-17 personally delivered over 640,000 tons of bombs over Germany during her service in the European Theatre.

The B-17 changed history by its effectiveness as a weapon against the Axis powers as well as its exemplary service in saving her crews.

Here is a short list of some well known crew names that the B-17 also brought home...

Clark Gable - Academy Award-winning film actor, five missions as waist gunner aboard the B-17 with Eight Ball of the 359th Bomb Squadron - 351st Bomb Group.
Norman Lear - Radio operator, with the 463rd Bombardment Group, 15th Air Force. Went on to become a television producer of American sitcoms such as Sanford and Son, Maude and All in the Family, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, and many more...


Gene Roddenberry - Flew B-17s for the 394th Bomb Squadron, 5th Bomb Group (H), in the Pacific theatre. Gene later went on to become the Creator of Star Trek.
Jimmy Stewart - Academy Award-winning film actor, instructed in B-17s, then flew over 20 combat missions in B-24s with the 8th Air Force, England; retired from Air Force Reserve as a Brigadier General.

 

"The B-17 Flying Fortress"

You hear folks talk of graceful Yachts
That have sailed the seven seas.
And some will talk of streamline trains
That cross the states with ease.
Some like Bikes and Scooters
Some like limousines
Give me the Queen of the Airways
Give me the B-17

It looks passive in the bunker
not seeming to worry or care.
But as each engine roars to life
She is eager to take to the air
She strains at the end of the runway
impatient to soar into flight.
Once airborne she is graceful and stately
and ready to show off her might.

She's a nasty devil in combat
with guns spewing from each side.
And though lead and shrapnel may pierce her
No jerry will injure her pride.

No matter how much she is wounded
No matter that odds she must face.
She shows that it is her dying duty
To return you safe to your base.

Soon when this war is all over
and the world is rid of this scum
You'll be able to look at the records
And see all that the Fortress has done
Then when my last flight is scheduled
And I leave the earthly scene
Please let me fly up to heaven
In my own B-17."

Written by Melvin Service.- 1943
301st Bomb Group
32nd Bomb Squadron

 


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