The Eighth Air Force flew the B-17 Bomber which was designed in 1935. West Coast aircraft manufacturers were mass-producing  B-17’s in 1942 racing to keep up with demand.  The design of the B-17 was continually improved throughout the war utilizing models B-17 B, C, D, E, F, and G. The plane was a four engine bomber which was equipped six defensive gun locations, hence the name “Flying Fortress” While the guns alone were a stern warning to any approaching enemy aircraft, it was the groups formation which provided its best defense. Planes flew in tight formation to allow the guns of multiple planes to be brought to bear on an enemy fighter.

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B-17's flying in formation

While not technological advanced for an aircraft, the tough B-17 could withstand a lot of punishment and bring its crews back to base.

B-17 F

Flying in a B-17 was nothing like today’s aircraft. The cabin was unheated, and unpresurized. This meant at high altitude crews needed oxygen, electric flying suits to keep warm. The bare bones plane had little room to spare. The plane had a range of 1300 miles with a full bomb load and a cruising speed of 200 MPH.

The purpose of the plane was to accurately bomb enemy targets. It primary weapon was a 500 LB bomb which it could carry 12 of in a rack which time released the bombs in sequence. To place bombs accurately the B-17 utilized the Norden Bombsight. The targeting system allowed the bombardier to lock in on the target and have the unit control the planes speed and course. On release of 6,000 pounds of ordinance the plane would lurch up higher into the sky. For more on the B-17s

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B-17's release their bomb loads
The B-17 also had multiple .50 caliber machine guns for defensive purposes. The phrase “the whole 9 yards” came from the use of nine yards of linked ammunition fed through the Browning machine guns. Hermann Goring,  Luftwaffe Field Marshal said “had Germany had the .50 caliber Browning, the Battle of Britain would have been different.”

A waist gunner inside a B-17

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Reading: A Wing and a Prayer by Harry Crosby


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John Ellsworth Asmussen
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