The B-17 Combat Air Crew

Pilot – The pilot is lead officer onboard the aircraft. He makes all the command decisions. All other officers and men direct their observations and requests through the pilot. The pilot’s skill in flying the four-engine bomber straight, level and at a constant speed is critical to arriving at the target location. Navigation in 1943 is largely by approximate means and mathematical calculations.   

Copilot- The Co-pilot assists the pilot in pre flight checks and is in charge of certain flight controls. If need be, the copilot can fly the plane and complete the mission.

Navigator- The navigator’s position is in the very nose of the plane. He calculates location to specific reference points via mathematical calculations based on the air speed wind direction and course of the plane. In a few circumstances radio beacons aid in navigation. The navigator does keep a log of  key mission events. The navigator also is in charge of  forward guns, and element added after the apparent weakness of the fortress cost the Eighth many bombers.    

Bombardier- The bombardier aided with the Norden bombsight controls the sighting and release of the bombs over the target. In early missions when a lead plane released its bombs all the following planes would follow suit. Subsequently, the system would be improved to have each plane control its own navigation and bomb drop. The bombsight would actually control the aircraft during a final bomb run. With the weight of the bomb load away the B-17 would quickly gain altitude.  

Engineer The Engineer  was responsible for many of the planes operating systems. He also manned the top turret with twin .50 caliber guns.

Radio Operator – Originally the radio operator doubled as a gunner, but a tenth crew member was added and the radio operator only manned guns if needed.

Right and Left Waist Gunners – The waist gunners handled the .50 caliber Browning machine-guns.

Ball Turret- The ball turret gunner is enclosed in a power driven pod, which is just behind the bomb bay doors. The twin turret can rotate 360 degrees. The ball-turret gunner as well as those in the nose of the plane would sit elsewhere on take-off and landing.

Tail Gunner- The tail gunner operates a twin .50 caliber Browning. The tail gunner also acts as aerial photographer.


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