The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress flew in every combat zone during World War II, but its most significant service was over Europe. Along with the B-24 Liberator, the B-17 formed the backbone of the USAAF strategic bombing force, and it helped win the war by crippling Germany’s war industry.
The B-17’s design emphasized high altitude flight, speed, and heavy defensive armament in order to survive enemy defenses. Advanced turbosupercharged engines allowed it to fly up to about 30,000 feet with a combat load, while powered turrets and flexible guns covered all areas around the aircraft.
Although the B-17 prototype flew in 1935, only a relatively small number of B-17s were in service when the US entered the war in 1941. Production quickly increased, and three companies—Boeing, Lockheed-Vega, and Douglas—mass-produced Flying Fortresses by the thousands.
The B-17F was the fastest model and the primary heavy bomber early in the strategic bombing campaign. The later B-17G had a nose turret for better frontal defense, and it was also the most numerous, representing about two thirds of all B-17s made. By the end of production in May 1945, more than 12,700 B-17s had been built.
The aircraft on display, the famed B-17F Memphis Belle, became the first heavy bomber to return to the US after flying 25 missions over Europe. The Memphis Belle, which had been on loan from the Air Force to the city of Memphis, was relocated to the Museum in 2005, and after years of meticulous restoration, it was placed on public display in May 2018.
Armament: Up to thirteen .50-cal machine guns and 8,000 lbs of bombs
Engines: Four 1,200 hp Wright R-1820-97 turbosupercharged radials
Maximum speed: 325 mph
Range: 2,800 miles
Combat radius: 600+ miles
Maximum ceiling: 37,500 ft
Empty weight: 35,728 lbs
Maximum gross weight: 48,720 lbs
Related Fact Sheets
The Memphis Belle: American Icon and 25th Mission
Memphis Belle Crew
The “Memphis Belle” and Nose Art
26th Mission: War Bond Tour
“Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress”
Heavy Bomber “Firsts”
Combat Aircraft to Museum Artifact
Crippling the Nazi War Machine: USAAF Strategic Bombing in Europe
Early Operations (1942 to mid-1943) - Eighth Air Force in England
Ninth/Twelfth Air Forces in the Mediterranean
Combat Box/Communication and Life at 25K
Keeping them Flying: Mechanics and Armorers
Combined Bomber Offensive: Summer 1943 to Victory
Bigger Raids, Bigger Losses, and Crisis
Deadly Skies over Europe (Luftwaffe defense)
Bomber Crew Protection
Operation Tidalwave (Ploesti, 1 Aug 43)
Regensburg/Schweinfurt (17 Aug 43)
Black Thursday/Schweinfurt (14 Oct 43)
Fifteenth Air Force (created Sep 43)
Women’s Army Corps
Fighter Escort: Little Friends
Big Week (20-25 Feb 44)
Operation Frantic: Shuttle Raids to the Soviet Union
Strategic Bombing Victorious
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