Perhaps no other aircraft more epitomized the air war against Nazi Germany than the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. While British bombers struck during the night, the legendary B-17 led the Allies’ daylight strategic bombing effort against Hitler’s Fortress Europe, conducting a twenty-four hour campaign to destroy Germany’s war-making ability.
The Seattle-based Boeing Company began working on its Model 299 project in 1934 to meet an Army Air Corps need for a new multi-engine bomber to be delivered for competitive testing by August 1935. While its competitors pursued bomber designs that incorporated only two engines, Boeing concentrated its efforts on four engines for increased speed, altitude, and bomb load. After putting the prototype through its paces at Wright Field, Ohio, Army officials expressed their satisfaction with the aircraft by awarding a contract to Boeing.
Production commenced in 1938 with the B Model, followed soon after by the C and D variants with minor modifications to the original design. The latter two types saw combat with British forces in May 1941 but exhibited numerous shortcomings under combat conditions. To improve defensive armament and stability, Boeing developed the B-17E and F, both of which featured a tail turret, ventral ball turret, power-operated upper turret and enlarged tail surfaces. The necessity to defend against frontal attacks from enemy fighters led to the B-17G, incorporating a remote control forward chin turret.
To meet wartime demands, additional Flying Fortress production lines were opened at Douglas and Lockheed. A total of 12,732 were eventually built, nearly three-quarters of which were G models. Approximately 50 Fortresses, designated PB-1, were procured by the US Navy and Coast Guard for early warning and search and rescue operations during the post-War years.
The museum’s B-17G was built by Lockheed/Vega in Burbank, California, on 8 May 1945 – the day the war in Europe ended – and did not see combat. After declared surplus by the Army, it was purchased by the Institut Geographique National (The National Geographic Institute of France) in 1947 and flown for twenty-two years as a high-altitude topographer in Europe, South America, and Africa. After its acquisition by the Lone Star Flight Museum in June 1987, the B-17 began a four and a half year in-house restoration at Houston's Hobby Airport. It carries the markings of Thunderbird, a B-17 that flew 112 missions over Europe. The original Thunderbird, based at Molesworth, England, was attached to the 359th Bomb Squadron, 303rd Bomb Group, Eighth Air Force. The LSFM B-17 was awarded top honors at the Experimental Aviation Association Airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1992 and 1993. This aircraft has appeared in numerous documentaries and in the 1995 HBO feature film Tuskegee Airmen starring Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Flight experiences are available aboard the B-17. See this website for more information or contact the LSFM to arrange your flight.