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  • It was the most potent symbol of the American airpower in military history.

  • Designed to fend off ferocious attacks

  • from the German Luftwaffe,

  • it dealt a death blow

  • to Nazi wartime industrial production,

  • and erased Hitler's capital to the ground.

  • "To me, it was the most beautiful plane ever built,

  • really great airplane and still is."

  • Each crewed by 10-men,

  • thousands of them would fly the most perilous missions of the 2nd WW.

  • Many would never return.

  • "If it hadn't been for a B-17,

  • I more likely wouldn't be sitting here talking to you."

  • Using color reenactments and rare archive film,

  • Battle Stationstakes to the skies in the legendry B-17 Flying Fortress.

  • 1918,

  • with the conclusion of 'The War to End All Wars',

  • military powers around the world

  • recognized the warfare would never be the same.

  • Military thinking moved away from the stalemate of trench warfare,

  • and focused on the use of the new wonder weapons --- aircraft.

  • It had become apparent that

  • bombers would prove decisive in any future conflict.

  • The bomber was believed would always get through.

  • In the 1930's,

  • this bomber doctrine got real momentum.

  • Attention now turned

  • to modernizing America's obsolescent Air Corps.

  • Modern bombers were needed

  • to replace the fabric and wood aircraft of the last war.

  • On August the 8th 1934,

  • the US Army Air Corps

  • issued a circular proposal that called for a bomber

  • with a maximum speed of 250 miles per hour.

  • That's operated 10,000 feet

  • and have a range of 2,000 miles.

  • Designs would be company funded

  • and submitted for testing within a year.

  • The victor would win a production run up to 120 aircraft.

  • Titling on the brink of bankruptcy,

  • the Boeing Aircraft Company left to the challenge.

  • In a bold move,

  • Boeing under the visionary leadership of Edward C. Wells

  • committed most of its capital and manpower

  • to the project they called Model 299.

  • It was a fantastic gamble.

  • In August 1934,

  • Boeing began building a radical, all metal, 4-engine aircraft.

  • "It had

  • beautiful lines and was a long wing airplane

  • and that all the turrets were

  • attractive, just a nice looking airplane

  • and Boeing had always been noted for making beautiful airplanes."

  • Boeing's new plane would be fitted with an array of machine guns

  • and an internal weapon's bay.

  • It was a bold design,

  • one that far exceeded the requirements of the proposal.

  • On July the 28th of 1935,

  • just 11 months after the competition had started,

  • Boeing's model 299

  • rolled out of the company's factory in Seattle

  • becoming America's first all metal, 4 engine bomber.

  • "Closely guarded, the Army newest bomber

  • and America's largest ?land scene

  • is prepared for its 1st flight at Seattle.

  • It's Boeing 299.

  • With all her machine gun turrets, it weighs 15 tons,

  • and is reported to have cost nearly half a million."

  • A newspaper reporter attending the event

  • was impressed by the immense size

  • and the number of gun emplacements on the aircraft,

  • and exclaimed

  • why it's a flying fortress.

  • "While my father used to say,

  • 'Look at all that armor you got

  • and I said, "Dad you could put your finger to the side of the airplane,

  • if you really pushed really hard."

  • "It was just an aluminum box flying in the skylight

  • and all it was with some guns sticking out of it

  • with the load of bombs

  • like a paper bag."

  • "With all the hardware and all the guns it had on it,

  • it truly was a flying fortress."

  • Boeing's legendry aircraft was born.

  • But the all important contract was still to be won.

  • Alongside Boeing's offering,

  • 2 rival twin engine designs

  • were also evaluated by the Army Air Corps,

  • Martin's B-12

  • and Douglas's DB-1.

  • On the morning of the 30th of October,

  • disaster struck.

  • During the evaluation,

  • the Boeing prototype bomber stalled after take-off

  • and crashed to the Wright Field.

  • "Between the aircraft company it had invested

  • in the Model 299 Projects,

  • now __ __ from the Army Air Corps

  • and now the program ?lay in tatters.

  • In addition,

  • they lost their two pilots

  • which effectively put them out of running for the contract."

  • Boeing's Model 299 was disqualified from the competition,

  • and the company lost the contract.

  • Douglas's DB-1 triumphed,

  • and 133 of the bombers were ordered.

  • But despite the crash,

  • Model 299 had impressed the Air Corps,

  • and a small number were purchased

  • for further evaluation.

  • It was not the order Boeing had hoped for,

  • but it was a start.

  • Modifications to the aircraft followed,

  • and in February 1937,

  • the Air Corps ordered 10 more aircraft,

  • now called YB-17's.

  • These aircraft fitted with superchargers had a ceiling of 30,000 feet.

  • But in the dark days of September 1939

  • as Europe descended into war,

  • Douglas's bombers were taking too long to get off the production lines,

  • and were proving underpowered.

  • Boeing's B-17

  • was the only operational heavy bomber in the United States,

  • but the Air Corps owns just 30

  • New YB-17's

  • would now be fitted with power-operated turrets above

  • and below the fuselage.

  • And 2 more sets of twin guns are added to the tail

  • and radio operator's positions.

  • By March 1941,

  • B-17's were being transformed

  • from an advanced prototype

  • to a full-powered super-bomber ready for war.

  • Under the terms of its Lend - Lease agreements,

  • America sent 20 of these fortress YB-17s

  • to Britain's Royal Air Force.

  • But the B-17's first delivery flight

  • ended in disaster.

  • At high altitude over the skies of England,

  • the bomber experienced a power failure

  • and crashed.

  • It was an inauspicious start.

  • But despite these problems,

  • on the 8th of July 1941,

  • 2 Fortress 1's, belonging to the RAF,

  • bombed Wilhelmshaven in Germany.

  • "Wilhelmshaven,

  • a main target,

  • is a number one target

  • for it's a major naval base

  • and a great shipbuilding center."

  • This first mission

  • also ended in disaster.

  • At high altitude,

  • all of the guns froze

  • and the bombs were dropped wide off the target.

  • Later 8 fortress 1's were shot down.

  • It looks as though the B-17 would go down in history as a failure.

  • "The British experience of the

  • fortress one was a resounding failure.

  • The aircraft

  • was found to suffer from a number of mechanical failures.

  • The guns froze when at high altitude.

  • It lacked defensive armament

  • to fight off the determined attack by the enemy.

  • And it was also difficult to put ordnance on target

  • from that height.

  • The RAF therefore concluded

  • that the best thing would be to

  • increase its defensive armament

  • use it in greater numbers for protective purposes

  • and also use it at lower altitudes."

  • Now the RAF immediately

  • pulled the Fortress from European combat

  • and promptly reassigned it to the Middle East.

  • As war intensified in Europe,

  • and diplomatic relations between the USA and Japan deteriorated,

  • America moved its YB-17's

  • to bases in the Pacific.

  • On December 7th, 1941,

  • as a flight of unarmed YB-17's

  • arrived at Hickam Field, Hawaii,

  • Japan ended America's isolationism.

  • At Pearl Harbor,

  • 12 B-17's were destroyed on the ground.

  • And all of the unarmed aircraft flying in were damaged

  • or lost.

  • From the ashes of destruction in Hawaii,

  • Americas' troubled B-17's

  • had to prove its doubt was wrong.

  • With America at war,

  • the Flying Fortress was about to be thrown into Pearl Harbor.

  • As America rushed headlong into war,

  • production of YB-17's went into full swing.

  • On December the 8th 1941,

  • Boeing Executive Jake Harman,

  • made a phone call to Plant Two at Seattle.

  • His conversation was concise

  • and to the point.

  • "Start building airplanes."

  • "How many?"

  • "Just start building.

  • Never mind the schedules.

  • Tell US how much money,

  • and what things you need and when"

  • As Harman made his call,

  • B-17's in the Pacific

  • started flying reconnaissance missions

  • to track the Japanese battle fleet.

  • Off the coast of Luzon,

  • a Japanese convoy was spotted.

  • Five YB-17's attacked

  • and the Flying Fortress became the 1st US aircraft

  • to drop its bombs in WWII.

  • But it was in Europe

  • that the Fortress would become a legend.

  • By early 1942,

  • in accordance with the Allied 'Europe First' policy,

  • Major General Carl Spaatz,

  • suggests that the 8th Air Force

  • be designated the core of the Army Air Forces in Britain.

  • Now America prepared to send its new 'heavies' to front line units in England.

  • Recognizing the value of bombing to the war in Europe,

  • Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill

  • and President Franklin Roosevelt

  • agreed on the use of airpower in the theatre.

  • "Churchill and Roosevelt

  • both unequivocally endorsed the strategic bombing.

  • In January 1943,

  • they had called for the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan

  • and they saw strategic bombing as the overwhelming

  • force that would quickly end the war

  • by destroying the German industrial complex

  • and demoralizing its civilian population,

  • They reasoned that they could

  • grind to a halt Hitler's war machine."

  • Earlier in 1942,

  • Allied command identified special targets

  • to be given absolute priority.

  • Submarine construction facilities,

  • aircraft factories,

  • ball-bearing production plants,

  • and oil-refineries

  • were at the top of the list.

  • The RAF and 8th Air Force

  • plan a co-coordinated non-stop day and night bomber offensive.

  • From then on,

  • B-17's would operate by day,

  • in full view of the German Luftwaffe.

  • Flying a B-17 in combat without the fighter escort

  • was pretty close to being suicidal.

  • It wasn't until they learned the lesson the hard way

  • that you can't fly these airplanes.

  • They were just not well protected

  • because the enemy that we were contending with

  • was highly sophisticated,

  • good weapons and good airplanes."

  • On August 17th 1942,

  • the US launches its first raid of the war in Europe.

  • With no fighter cover,

  • the B-17's made the attack on their own.

  • "At 15:26 hours,

  • the first daylight mission from a base in England was launched.

  • Strategic airpower was born."