One of the most charismatic planes in the collection is undoubtedly the B-17G Flying Fortress that completed a long-term refurbishment. Although produced too late to see combat in WWII, #44-83624 saw extensive service first in a highly secret project that resurrected the idea of using obsolete aircraft as radio-controlled flying bombs, then as a drone-control aircraft in the ground-to-air missile development program. In 1957, it was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. In 1989, it was given to Dover to replace the famous B-17G “Shoo-Shoo-Shoo Baby” that was restored here over a ten-year period and flown back, under her own power, to Wright-Patterson’s Museum.
The B-17 was America’s most famous heavy bomber during WWII. Over 12,000 were produced for combat. Today only about 40 remain in museums. Less than a dozen of these are in flying condition. This Fortress was one of the last on active duty in the Air Force. It is the sole remaining aircraft from the 1948 Flying Bomb project (MB-17G), and served as a Drone Director (DB-17G) with the Guided Missile Wing at Eglin AFB, FL. Disassembled at the USAF Museum, it was flown to Dover in a C-5. After a seven year restoration it is painted and marked as Sleepy Time Gal from the 381st Bomb Group.
One of the most well known bombers of all time, the B-17 Flying Fortress became famous for the long daylight bombing raids over Europe in WWII. While it lacked the range and bomb load of its contemporary B-24 Liberator, the B-17 became the more famous of the two due to the many tales of B-17s bringing their crews back home despite heavy damage. With up to thirteen machine guns, the B-17 seemed to be genuine flying “fortress in the sky.” However, bomber losses reached the unacceptable point in 1943 in the face of stiff German opposition, and the B-17s welcomed the introduction of long-range fighter escort before they could continue their war against the Reich.
Project 299, as Boeing called it, got started on August 16, 1934, only eight days after the company had received the official government request for a prototype multi-engine bomber to be ready by August of the following year. Specifications called for a plane that could carry a payload of 2,000 pounds a distance of between 1,000 and 2,000 miles at speeds between 200 and 250 m.p.h. The Boeing designers took advantage of the knowledge they had gained in building the civil transport Model 247 and in developing the Model 294 bomber. Less than a month later, after the prototypes first flight on July 28, 1935, it took the air from Seattle Washington to Wright Patterson AFB Ohio to show it could fly over 2,000 miles nonstop in nine hours. Few B-17s were in service on December 7, 1941 during the raid of Pearl Harbor, but production quickly accelerated. The aircraft served in every WWII combat zone, but is best known for daylight strategic bombing of German industrial targets. Production ended in May 1945 and totaled 12,731. The name Flying Fortress has entered the world of myth and legend. Perhaps more than any other plane, the B-17 represented the power of American aviation in the years that Europe was overrun by Axis troops.
When is a B-17 Not a B-17?
Army Air Force leaders often turned to the B-17 to fulfill unprecedented mission requirements because of the aircraft’s dependability and availability in large numbers. The B-17 accomplished some of these missions, like photographic reconnaissance, air-sea rescue and personnel transports, with the same capability as it did its primary long-range bombing role.
Due to a shortage of dedicated cargo aircraft various heavy bomber types, including the B-17, B-24 and B-29, were pressed into service as makeshift transports. Four B-17s were converted to C-108s but were not particularly successful since the weight of any cargo had to be centered in the rather small bomb bay.
At Dover Army Airfield, B-17s filled two unique requirements. Several “Fortresses” were used to tow gunnery targets at high altitudes giving P-47 pilots realistic training in maneuvering their planes in the thin air above 25,000 feet. Near the end of the war one or two planes were modified here at Hangar 1301 to test the feasibility of firing rockets at attacking German aircraft.
As part of the Target Drone/Drone Director programs, B-17s flew in the USAF until the early 1960s.