Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
Based off the World War Two thriller Catalyst by Paul Byers
This is a brief History of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. The Red Light Lady depicted in the WWII thriller, CATALYST was a typical
B-17G model of the US 8th Air Force, flown out of bases scattered
all over England during the war. Though a work of fiction, CATALYST was inspired by true events and is historically accurate.

Below, along with information about the B-17 are excerpts from CATALYST

…"I’ve got a bandit at three o’clock high!" Tasker shouted.

"I see him." Idleman replied. "It’s a 109." In order to line up the sights on the high intruder, Idleman had to crouch to one knee. "He’s starting his run!"

"Detroit Beauty just got it." Gibbons said. The B-17 below and to their right was going down. Both engines on the left wing were on fire and the plane fell from the sky, leaving a twisted, spiraling trail of black smoke.

"I see three, no four chutes." Hutton reported. No one said a word about the other six crewmen that didn’t make it out even though they knew everyone onboard. There would be time enough to grieve later, if they survived.

"That 190 is coming up on our tail fast." The tail gunner shouted. "Can you help me, Tiny?"

"Negative, he’s too high on the tail for me. He’s all yours Billy."

"109-nine o’clock low!" Shouted Hutton. "There’s another one trying to get underneath us!"

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is one of the few iconic aircraft of the Second World War that came to symbolize the struggle itself, dropping more bombs than any other aircraft in the war. (500,000 tons in Europe) The humble beginnings of the great warbird began back in 1934 when the US Army Air Corp were looking for a replacement bomber for their aging Martian B-10’s. Part of the requirements were that it would carry a "useful bomb load" at an altitude of 10,000 ft for ten hours with a top speed of at least 200 mph. They also desired, but did not require, a range of 2,000 miles and a speed of 250 mph.

The humble beginnings of the great warbird began back in 1934 when the US Army Air Corp were looking for a replacement bomber for their aging Martian B-10’s. Part of the requirements were that it would carry a "useful bomb load" at an altitude of 10,000 ft for ten hours with a top speed of at least 200 mph. They also desired, but did not require, a range of 2,000 miles and a speed of 250 mph. Boeing funded their own test design, hoping to win the government contract and first flew the Model 299 on July 28th, 1935. A reporter covering the story for the Seattle Times gave it the nickname of the "Flying Fortress" when it rolled out of the hangar and he saw all the bristling machine guns. Boeing liked the name so much they put a trademark on it, and a legend was born.

T

The B-17 entered combat with the Royal Air Force (RAF) on July 8th, 1941 and flew with Americans pilots for the first time on August 17, 1942 from the 97th Bomb Group from their base at High Wycombe, England. Note, one of the pilots in this raid was, then Major Paul Tibets, who would later go on to fly the Boeing B-29 Super Fortress in the Pacific and drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

The B-17G was the largest produced model (8680) and carried a crew of ten; a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier/nose gunner, flight engineer-top turret gunner, radio operator, waist gunners (2), ball turret gunner and tail gunner. The Fortress carries 13-fifty caliber M2 Browning machine guns with 6,380 rounds of ammunition. At full firing rate, that gave the gunners less than 60 second of defensive firepower. Typical bomb load was between 6000 to 8000 pounds but could go up as high as 17,000 for short missions.

 

Numerous reports of the plane sustaining heavy battle damage, with engines missing, parts being blown away and even mid-air collisions and yet returning her crews home safely have all added to the legendary status of the B-17. In June of 1943 in the Pacific, a B-17 named Old 666 was attacked by 17 Japanese Zero fighters and in a running battle survived, downing four of the attacking fighters. For their courage and bravery, the entire crew was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross while her captain and another crewmember received the country’s highest award, The Congressional Medal of Honor. During the course of the war, a total of 17 Medal of Honor’s were awarded to crewmembers of B-17s.

…Right after Ramos fired his warning shots, the 190 waggled his wings in response. "Did you see that?" He exclaimed to Idleman. "That S.O.B. just challenged me, I think."

"Maybe he likes you." Idleman shot back, smiling under his oxygen mask. Ramos began swearing at him in Spanish until Perry stopped him.

"Cut the chatter, Ramos." Perry ordered. "Just shoot him, don’t talk him to death."

"Yes sir, sorry, Captain." Ramos apologized. He fired a longer burst at him out of spite. The 190 responded by pulling up and banking hard toward the bomber formation and the Red Light Lady in particular.

"…190 is coming in hard and fast at nine-o’clock." Ramos shouted. "He’s going to fire at any second!"

"Hutton?"

"Negative, Captain, they’re both too high for me."

"The Dora on our six is firing!" Jacobs shouted. Each man of the Red Light Lady came to the realization that they wouldn’t be going home this time. One by one they were relived the events of their all too short lives. They remembered being with friends, families and envisioning what their futures could have been. With no way to defend themselves, they knew they had only minutes, if not seconds, to live.

Nearly a third of B-17s (4,735) were lost during combat missions. Initially bomber crews’ tour of duty was 25 missions (later raised to 35) However, the life expectancy of the average B-17 crew was just 14 missions. The first B-17 to complete her 25 mission requirement was the famous Memphis Belle from the 324th Bomber Squadron, 91st Bomber Group. The ‘Belle completed her 25th mission on May 19th, 1943 to Kiel, Germany.

 
The Flying Fortress not only found its place on the battlefield but in the public’s eye as well. In 1943, Consolidated Aircraft, the builders of the B-17s rival, the B-24 Liberator, commissioned a poll to see "to what degree the public is familiar with the names of the Liberator and the Flying Fortress." Of 2,500 men in cities where Consolidated ads had been run in newspapers, only 73 percent had heard of the Liberator, while 90 percent knew of the B-17.



One interesting side note of the versatility of the B-17 was "Project Aphrodite". War-weary Fortresses (worn out aircraft that were no longer combat capable, re-designated BQ-7) were stripped of their armament and filled with 9 tons (20,000 pounds) of explosive and fitted with a radio controls. They were flown to the target area by a pilot and copilot where they bailed out and the unmanned plane was then directed on to the target by radio control from another aircraft. The project was soon canceled however because of the low success rate.

Another side note on the Aphrodite project; one of the pilots for the project was Navy Lt. Joseph Kennedy, Jr., older brother of John F. Kennedy of the PT 109 fame who later went on to become the 35th President of the United States. He and his copilot, Lt. Bud Willy were killed while still over England when their bomb laden aircraft mysteriously exploded. (Note, the top of the fuselage has been removed to make it easier for the pilots to  bail out.)

Between 1935 and May of 1945, 12,732 B-17s were produced at a cost of $238,329 each. Today, the same aircraft would cost $2,781,367 apiece.

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
  • Wingspan: 103 ft 9 in
  • 103 ft 9 in
  • Height: 19 ft 1 in
  • 19 ft 1 in
  • Wing area: 1,420 ft²
  • 1,420 ft²
  • Empty weight: 36,135 lb
  • Loaded weight: 54,000 lb
  • 54,000 lb
  • Max takeoff weight: 65,500 lb
  • Powerplant: 4× Wright R-1820-97 "Cyclone" turbosupercharged radial engines,
  • 1,200 hp each
  • Fuel load: Normal fuel load was 2520 US gallons, but extra fuel tanks could be installed which raised total fuel capacity to 3612 US gallons.
  •  
  • Performance
  • Maximun speed: 287 mph (249 knots)
  • Cruise speed: 182 mph (158 knots)
  • Range: 1,738 nmi (2,000 miles) with 6,000 lb bombload
  • Sevice ceiling 35,600 ft
  • Rate of climb: 900 ft/min 900 ft/min

Armament

  • Guns: 13× M2 Browning .50 caliber machine guns in twin turrets, plus single dorsal, fore and aft beam positions (with optional extra nose armament fitted in glazed nose).

    Bombs: Although it theoretically could carry 17,417 lb of bombs, the B-17 rarely flew combat missions with more than 5,071 lb

CATALYST is an exciting WWII thriller inspired by true events: the fact that Germany had a plot to bomb New York City.  To go to Amazon.com and read more about the book and reviews, click on the picture, for more information about the author click on the website below

In the waning months of World War II, the allied armies advance upon the crumbling German war machine like a juggernaut. In a final desperate bid to save the Fatherland, a plan is conceived that could turn the tide of the war-the completion of an advanced jet-propelled bomber capable of delivering a deadly payload to shores of America.

Captain Griff Avery of the OSS has just botched the defection of a prominent German physicist, a man crucial to the Nazi end game, letting him fall into the hands of the rogue SS General masterminding the plot. But Avery's troubles have only just begun: overwhelming evidence points to the woman he loves as the German spy who foiled the defection.

Now under suspicion himself, Avery sifts through the lies and deceit, uncovering the treacherous German operation. Against orders and on the run, Avery is forced to wage a secret war of his own, recruiting the crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress and a reckless group of flyboys and their P-51 Mustangs to help him hunt down the secret SS cell and prevent the slaughter-no matter what the cost.
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