Boeing B.17G Fortress (44-83868)

Boeing B.17G Fortress (44-83868)  [@ RAF Hendon]

Prior to achieving great success with the United States Army Eighth Air Force later in World War II, the Flying Fortress had had an undistinguished baptism with the RAF.  Twenty Fortress Is [B.17Cs], with no tail gun position, were set aside for delivery to the RAF in May 1941.  A single squadron, 90(B), was reformed to operate the aircraft from RAF Polebrook in Northamptonshire.  After a short period preparation period, three Fortresses made their debut in a raid on Wilhelmshaven on the 8th July 1941.  Further missions saw the aircraft operated in daylight at altitudes up to 30,000ft to evade enemy fighters, but they often flew alone.  Consequently, success was very limited and many sorties had to be aborted as equipment (especially the guns) often froze at the higher altitudes.  Within two months, the Fortresses had been taking off operations.

Boeing B.17G Fortress (44-83868)

Boeing B.17G Fortress (44-83868)  [@ RAF Hendon]

The RAF received 42 B.17Es in 1942 under the designation Fortress IIA and another 19 long range reconnaissance B.17Fs were delivered to RAF Coastal Command as the Fortress II.

Two and a half years later, in February 1944, 85 Fortresses again returned to Bomber Command when 214 Squadron began operations with Fortress III [B.17Gs] from RAF Sculthorpe, along with a second Fortress squadron, 223, based at RAF Oulthorpe.  They formed part of 100 (Bomber Support) Group and their aircraft were fitted with a large number of electronic countermeasures to jam enemy radar sites.

Both squadrons were disbanded in July 1945, but a few Fortress IIIs remained with the RAF and were used as meteorological recce aircraft.

83868 was built in 1944 by the Douglas Aircraft Corporation for the USAAF at Long Beach, California.  On the 14th July 1945 83868 was transferred to the US Navy and was used for airborne early warning and maritime reconnaissance duties until the 10th July 1956 when 83868 was Struck off Charge.  Sold for scrap/storage in 1957 83868 was purchased in December 1961 by Butler Aircraft Co and modified for as a water bomber to suppress forest fires. Retired from fire fighting duties in 1982 83868 flew to the UK from California and landed at RAF Brize Norton on the 13th October 1983 following conversion back to its original B.17G configuration.  83868 was donated to the museum by the US Air Force Museum in appreciation of a donated B.2 Avro Vulcan (XM573) and placed on display at RAF Hendon during January 1984. In the photograph 83868 is in the markings of the 332nd Bombardment Squadron, 94th Bomber Group, 3rd Air Division, USAAF 8th Air Force, who were based at Bury St. Edmunds in 1945.

B.17G - "Mary Alice" (44-83735)

B.17G - "Mary Alice" (44-83735[@ RAF Duxford]Wright's Cyclone engine

The B.17 Flying Fortress was designed in response to a United States Army Air Corps requirement, issued in 1934, for a long range, high-altitude daylight bomber.  The prototype, bearing the company designation Boeing Model 299, was powered by four 750hp Pratt & Whitney Hornet engines and flew for the first time on the 28th July 1935.  Although the prototype was later destroyed in an accident, the cause was attributed to human error and the project went ahead.  Thirteen YIB.17s and one YIB.17A were ordered for evaluation and after the trials period these were designated B.17 and B.17A respectively.  The first production batch of 39 B.317Bs, featuring a modified nose, enlarged rudder and various other modifications, were all delivered by the end of March 1940; meanwhile a further order had been placed for 38 B.17Cs, which were powered by four Wright 1200hp Cyclone engines [photograph - right] and featured some minor changes.

Too late to enter combat 83735 enjoyed a long civilian career.  First in 1947 with Transocean Airlines in the U.S and then with Philippine Airlines.  83735 was converted to a VIP transport with executive interior and named San Miguel.  83735 was regularly used on flights from Manila to San Francisco during 1948 and 1949.  In 1949 83735 was purchased by the Assemblies of God and renamed Ambassador II.  83735 visited 38 nations as a missionary transport from 1949 to 1951.  83735 then joined the IGN in 1952 and was used as a aerial survey aircraft until February 1972.  Purchased by the Sally B preservation group 83735  arrived in England in 1975 and was used for spare parts until 1978 and then sold to the Imperial War Museum.  A long restoration began that year.  All the military equipment had been removed during the long civiian life and a row passenger windows had to be removed.  After acquiring and manufacturing missing parts the Mary Alice, colour scheme of the US 401st Bomb Group based at Denethorpe near Corby, represents one of the finest museum restorations.

B.17G - "Sally B" (44-85784)B.17G - "Sally B" (44-85784)

B.17G - "Sally B" (44-85784[@ RAF Waddington]

By the time the Pacific war began the B.17D, 42 of which had been ordered in 1940, was in service.  This was generally similar to the C model, and the Cs in service was subsequently modified to D standard.  About half the early-model B.17s in the Pacific Theatre were destroyed by Japanese air attack in the first days of the Far Eastern war.  A new tail design, the main recognition feature of all subsequent Fortresses, was introduced with the B.17E, together with improved armament that for the first time included a tail gun position.  The B.17E was the first version of the Flying Fortress to see combat in the European Theatre of Operations, operating initially with the 97th Bombardment Group.  All B.17s in the Pacific Theatre were eventually transferred to Europe to reinforce the British-based US Eighth Army Air Force.   A total of 512 B.17Es was produced, this variant being followed into service by the further refined B.17F, which entered production in April 1942.  Total production of the B.17F was 3400, including 61 examples, which were converted to the long-range reconnaissance role as the F.9. 

B.17G - "Sally B" (44-85784)

B.17G - "Sally B" (44-85784 [@ RAF Duxford]

The last 86 B.17Fs were fitted with a chin-mounted power-operated Bendix turret mounting a pair of 12.7mm (0.50in) guns, which proved invaluable as the Luftwaffe increasingly adopted frontal fighter attacks.  This became standard on the B.17G, the major production model, which mounted 13 12.7mm (0.50in) machine guns.  Ten B.17Gs were converted for reconnaissance as the F.9C, while the US Navy and Coast Guard used 24 PB.1Ws and 16 PB.1Gs for maritime surveillance and aerial survey.  About 130 were modified for air-sea rescue duties as the B.17H or TB.17H, with a lifeboat carried under the fuselage and other rescue equipment.

Sally B alias "The Memphis Belle" (44-85784)

Sally B alias "The Memphis Belle" (44-85784[@ RAF Duxford]

Like many B.17s the Sally B was delivered too late to see active war serviceBuilt in 1944 by Lockheed at Burbank, 85784 served with the USAF and the first operational assignment was at Wright Field, Ohio in May 1948.  Later used by the General Electric Flight Test Centre at Schenectady, New York for the testing of infra-red equipment.  Acquired by the French organisation IGN [Institute Geographique National] in 1958 85784 joined a fleet of other B.17's which were used for photographic work around the world.  Sold in 1975, the 85784 arrived at Duxford in March that year and has remained there ever since.  85784 has made numerous TV and film appearances, the first of these being in the winter of 1980/81, where 85784 starred in the TV series "We'll Meet Again" filmed at West Malling.  The most famous role was in the David Puttnam film "The Memphis Belle" in 1989 where the chin turret was removed to "convert" the aircraft to the B.17F model.  Codes and nose art were continually changed to portray other B.17s, such as "C-Cup" and "Baby Ruth".  In the final sequences the aircraft wore the markings of the "Memphis Bell" herself as she returned from her last mission.  These are the markings still worn by the aircraft, although the famous cowling chequerboard has been re-painted and the teddy bear returned to the bomb aimerís window.  The chin turret was replaced and the aircraft has achieved ultimate stardom!