The Flying Fortress is one of the most famous airplanes ever built. The B-17 prototype first flew on July 28, 1935.
The first B-17s saw combat in 1941, when the British Royal Air Force took delivery of several B-17s for high-altitude missions. As World War II intensified, the bombers needed additional armament and armor.
The B-17E, the first mass-produced model of the Flying Fortress, carried nine machine guns and a 4,000-pound bomb load. It was several tons heavier than the prototypes and bristled with armament. It was the first Boeing airplane with the distinctive — and enormous — tail for improved control and stability during high-altitude bombing. Each version was more heavily armed.
The Fortresses were also legendary for their ability to stay in the air after taking brutal poundings.
In the Pacific, the planes earned a deadly reputation with the Japanese, who dubbed them “four-engine fighters,” as Walt Miller, Former 0311/0302 at United States Marine Corps (1973-1993), says on Quora.
A claim confirmed by the following interesting story appeared on Roger Freeman’s book B-17 Fortress at War.
“Confidence in the Fortress was always high amongst men of the squadrons operating in the southwest Pacific. It was considered a ‘rugged ship’, highly durable in which aircrew felt they had a chance and were quite able to give any formation of Zeros a tough time. […] A Japanese assessment of the B-17 referred to it as ‘a fighting plane used for all purposes’ rather than a heavy bomber. This attribute was not without foundation, for apart from general bombing, patrol, reconnaissance and even transport, there were several instances when the Fortress had been used as a gunship, low-level strafer and even pursuit plane. …Fortresses also intercepted and destroyed a number of enemy patrol bombers. On one such incident involved a Kawanishi H6K ‘Mavis’ which a lone Fortress on oceanic patrol encountered. Captain Walter Lucas took his aircraft in to attack coming up below the four-engined flying-boat so that the top turret and waist guns could bring fire to bear. Then, pulling up abreast of the enemy, a twenty minute running battle took place, until the Mavis had an engine catch fire and was forced to land in the sea where it was enveloped in flames.”
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