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First meeting with an old friend.

        As a veteran of, if not WWII, at least thousands of hours of WWII movies and television shows, I feel a certain familiarity with the classic B-17. The real  bomber of my childhood was the B-52; but I feel little kinship with this more modern aircraft - it is a stranger to me, as are the even newer B-1, and B-2 bombers. These new planes were (and continue to be) aloof, if not downright unfriendly. The B-17 is a whole different story. The B-17 is generous with its time, seemed to show up everywhere flown by everyone, and was so gregarious that I nearly have the inside memorized from so much public contact. The plane is not shy.

        Despite the familiarity, by the time I was born, these planes had long ago been retired from active service, and were seen only in a few far flung parts of the world as converted cargo planes or transports. The last plane in service anywhere was retired in 1968.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 10: Pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier/nose gunner, flight engineer-top turret gunner, radio operator, waist gunners (2), ball turret gunner, tail gunner

  • Length: 74 ft 4 in (22.66 m)

  • Wingspan: 103 ft 9 in (31.62 m)

  • Height: 19 ft 1 in (5.82 m)

  • Wing area: 1,420 sq ft (131.92 m2)

  • Airfoil: NACA 0018 / NACA 0010

  • Aspect ratio: 7.57

  • Empty weight: 36,135 lb (16,391 kg)

  • Loaded weight: 54,000 lb (24,500 kg)

  • Max takeoff weight: 65,500 lb (29,700 kg)

  • Powerplant: 4× Wright R-1820-97 "Cyclone" turbocharged radial engines, 1,200 hp (895 kW) each


  • Maximum speed: 287 mph (249 kn, 462 km/h)

  • Cruise speed: 182 mph (158 kn, 293 km/h)

  • Range: 2,000 mi (1,738 nmi, 3,219 km) with 2,700 kg (6,000 lb) bomb load

  • Service ceiling: 35,600 ft (10,850 m)

  • Rate of climb: 900 ft/min (4.6 m/s)

  • Wing loading: 38.0 lb/sq ft (185.7 kg/m2)

  • Power/mass: 0.089 hp/lb (150 W/kg)


  • Guns: 13 × .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns in 4 turrets in dorsal, ventral, nose and tail, 2 in waist positions, 2 beside cockpit and 1 in the lower dorsal position

  • Bombs:

    • Short range missions (<400 mi): 8,000 lb (3,600 kg)

    • Long range missions (≈800 mi): 4,500 lb (2,000 kg)

    • Overload: 17,600 lb (7,800 kg)

My first close up view of a real, flying B-17. the plane is not as large as its many larger than life movie appearances; but looks can be deceiving.

More important than the aircraft were the men who flew them, and used them to help win a war. If few of these planes remain, so do few of these men.

The B-17 Aluminum Overcast, and friends. many dressed up to look the part.
A look at the plastic nose, where the bombardier was seated, along with one of the many protective Browning fifty cal machine guns. The Norden bombsight contained in this compartment was one of the great secrets of WWII.
A full view of a modern propeller being powered by a classic radial engine. Though the radial engine is considered antiquated these days, the  design featured a number of advantages. These engines were nearly perfectly balanced and needed nothing in the way of counterweights. They were also easy to cool, with large fin areas open to airflow. A radial was also smoother than any other piston engine design.
A pair of WWII bedecked guard patrol the apron are near the B-17.
Approaching the hatch for entry. A ladder has been attached. The old time pilots never had it so good.

Visitors waiting to board the craft for a five minute tour.


This is likely the last thing that many a German fighter pilot ever saw.
The full wingspan of this classic bomber is 103' 9". With this span, and its four radial engines, this was an impressive instrument fo war, in its day.

Ships have figureheads, and aircraft have nose art. The Aluminum Overcast smiles and says hello.

Near the end of the day, there are fewer people waiting to board, and most of us are now milling around like some trainee ground crew.
Welcome to the ball turret. This was the main defense gun for the very vulnerable belly of the aircraft. ball turret gunners were chosen for their small stature. This was not a station for the claustrophobic. It also took a lot of courage, because should the plane have to ditch, the ball gunner was a good as dead. In addition, the man stationed here would have to stay here, curled in a ball, for the duration of the mission - hours.
The way out, if things should go bad, also the crew entrance.

The main hatch, and entrance for the pilots. This also happens to be the way in for visitors. There were a few who had to back out, as they could not get through the hatch, or around the cramped spaces within.
The tail gun. With its great view, stable position, and synchronized dual guns, this was not a good place for an enemy to approach.

Below and Bottom:
Some familiar views of this classic bomber.
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