TINKER HISTORY: Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress”

  • Published
  • By Greg L. Davis
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” was a four-engine, heavy bomber produced for the Army Air Corps prior to and during World War II. The aircraft was used in all theaters of the war with particularly heavy use in the European campaign.

According to official Tinker history documents, the Oklahoma City Air Depot repaired and calibrated the then top-secret Norden MK15 bombsight during the war years. However, besides photos showing standard overhaul and maintenance and some armament upgrades, there is little else mentioned about the B-17.

This gap in information is likely due to the aircraft having the highest security classification and records were destroyed before being downgraded.

The Flying Fortress carried a weapon payload of 6,000 pounds using an internal bomb bay to reduce drag and give it a 2,000 mile range. It was manned with 10 crew members made up of a pilot, copilot, navigator, radioman, engineer and defensive gunners positioned in the nose, tail, upper and lower turrets and waist positions.

The B-17 was continually refined after going into production. Many of the modifications were accomplished as retrofit upgrades immediately after delivery from the factory or during required maintenance. The most heavily armed and final version, the B-17G, led strikes deep in to enemy territory.

B-17s are most famous for flying from bases in England with the Eighth Air Force at high altitude and in large formations. Flying at high-altitude reduced the fuel burn of the four Wright R1820 radial engines and extended the range of the missions to allow deep strikes into enemy territory. It also produced massive contrails which made the B-17s easy targets for German flak gunners and aerial defenders. B-17s were capable of sustaining significant damage and bringing their crews home under miraculous conditions.

The B-17 used the Norden bombsight, an analog computer with visual sight used by the navigator to precisely drop bombs on targets. Improved accuracy reduced the amount of follow-on missions required to destroy targets, thus saving countless lives of bomber crews and their fighter escorts who would be sent back until the targets were destroyed.


Manufacturer: Boeing

Aircraft type: B-17

Nickname: Flying Fortress

Crew: 10

Power plant: four Wright R1820 radial engines producing 1,200 horsepower each.

In-service dates: 1939-1956

Number produced: 12,731

Tinker connection: Depot maintenance, weapon and armament upgrades