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The Consolidated PBY Catalina was an American flying boat of the 1930s and 1940s produced by Consolidated Aircraft. It could be equipped with depth charges, bombs, torpedoes, and .50 Browning machineguns and was one of the most widely used multi-role aircraft of World War II. PBYs served with every branch of the US military and in the air forces and navies of many other nations. In the United States Army Air Forces and later in the USAF their designation was the OA-10, while Canadian-built PBYs were known as the Canso.

In World War II, PBYs were used in anti-submarine warfare, patrol bombing, convoy escorts, search-and-rescue missions, and cargo transport. The PBY was the most successful aircraft of its kind; no other flying boat was produced in greater numbers. The last active military PBYs were not retired from service until the 1980s. Even today, over seventy years after its first flight, the aircraft continues to fly as an airtanker in aerial firefighting operations all over the world.

In the initialism PBY, "PB" stands for "Patrol Bomber" and "Y" is the code for "Consolidated Aircraft", as designated in the U.S. Navy aircraft designation system of 1922.


[edit] Background

The PBY was originally designed to be a patrol bomber, an aircraft with a long operational range intended to locate and attack enemy transport ships at sea in order to compromise enemy supply lines. With a mind to a potential conflict in the Pacific Ocean, where troops would require resupply over great distances, the U.S. Navy in the 1930s invested millions of dollars in developing long-range flying boats for this purpose. Flying boats had the advantage of not requiring runways, in effect having the entire ocean available. Several different flying boats were adopted by the Navy, but the PBY was the most widely used and produced.
PBY riding at sea anchor.

Although slow and ungainly, PBYs distinguished themselves in World War II as exceptionally reliable. Allied armed forces used them successfully in a wide variety of roles that the aircraft was never intended for. They are remembered by many veterans of the war for their role in rescuing downed airmen, in which they saved the lives of thousands of aircrew downed over water. PBY airmen called their aircraft the "cat" on combat missions and "Dumbo" in air-sea rescue service.[1]

[edit] Prototyping

As American dominance in the Pacific Ocean began to face competition from Japan in the 1930s, the U.S. Navy contracted Consolidated Aircraft and Douglas Aircraft Corporation in October 1933 to build competing prototypes for a patrol flying boat.[2] Naval doctrine of the 1930s and 1940s used flying boats in a wide variety of roles that today are handled by multiple special-purpose aircraft. The US Navy had adopted the Consolidated P2Y and Martin P3M models for this role in 1931, but both aircraft proved to be underpowered and hampered by short ranges and low maximum payloads.

Consolidated and Douglas both delivered single prototypes of their designs, the XP3Y-1 and XP3D-1, respectively. Consolidated's XP3Y-1 was an evolution of the XPY-1 design that had originally competed unsuccessfully for the P3M contract two years earlier and of the XP2Y design that the Navy had authorized for a limited production run. Although the Douglas aircraft was a good design, the Navy opted for Consolidated's because the projected cost was only $90,000 per plane.
PBY waist gunner mounting port side gun blister.

Consolidated's XP3Y-1 design (company Model 28) was revolutionary in a number of ways. The aircraft had a parasol wing with internal bracing that allowed the wing to be a virtual cantilever, except for two small streamlined struts on each side. Stabilizing floats, retractable in flight to form streamlined wingtips, were another aerodynamic innovation. The two-step hull design was similar to that of the P2Y, but the Model 28 had a cantilever cruciform tail unit instead of a strut-braced twin tail. Cleaner aerodynamics gave the Model 28 better performance than earlier designs.

The prototype was powered by two 825 hp (615 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-54 Twin Wasp engines mounted on the wing’s leading edges. Armament comprised four 0.30 in (7.62 mm) Browning machineguns and up to 2,000 lb (907 kg) of bombs.

The XP3Y-1 had its maiden flight on 28 March 1935, after which it was transferred to the US Navy for service trials. The XP3Y-1 soon proved to have significant performance improvements over current patrol flying boats. The Navy requested further development in order to bring the aircraft into the category of patrol bomber, and in October 1935, the prototype was returned to Consolidated for further work, including installation of 900 hp (671 kW) R-1830-64 engines. For the redesignated XPBY-1, Consolidated introduced redesigned vertical tail surfaces. The XPBY-1 had its maiden flight on 19 May 1936, during which a record non-stop distance flight of 3,443 miles (5,541 km) was achieved.

The XPBY-1 was delivered to VP-11F in October 1936. The second squadron to be equipped was VP-12, which received the first of its aircraft in early 1937. The second production order was placed on 25 July 1936. Over the next three years, the PBY design was gradually developed further and successive models introduced.

[edit] Mass-produced U.S. Navy* variants
Model Production period & distinguishing features Quantity
PBY-1 September 1936 - June 1937
Original production model. 60
PBY-2 May 1937 - February 1938
Minor alterations to tail structure, hull reinforcements. 50
PBY-3 November 1936 - August 1938
Higher power engines. 66
PBY-4 May 1938 - June 1939
Higher power engines, propeller spinners, acrylic glass blisters over waist guns (some later units). 32
PBY-5 September 1940 - July 1943
Higher power engines (using higher octane fuel), discontinued use of propeller spinners, standardized waist gun blisters. 684
PBY-5A October 1941 - January 1945
Hydraulically-actuated, retractable tricycle landing gear for amphibious operation. Introduced tail gun position, replaced bow single gun position with bow "eyeball" turret equipped with twin .30 machine guns (some later units), improved armor, self-sealing fuel tanks.[3] 802
PBY-6A January 1945 - May 1945
Incorporated changes from PBN-1,[4] including a taller vertical tail, increased wing strength for greater carrying capacity, new electrical system, standardized "eyeball" turret, and a radome over cockpit for radar. 175

* An estimated 4,051 Catalinas, Cansos, and GSTs of all variants were produced between June 1937 and May 1945 for the US Navy, USAAF, United States Coast Guard, Allied nations, and civilian customers.

[edit] Naval Aircraft Factory production
A radar-equipped PBY-6A Catalina in flight.

The Naval Aircraft Factory made significant modifications to the PBY design, many of which would have significantly interrupted deliveries had they been incorporated on the Consolidated production lines.[5] The new aircraft, officially known as the PBN-1 Nomad, had several differences from the basic PBY. The most obvious upgrades were to the bow, which was sharpened and extended two feet, and to the tail, which was enlarged and featured a new shape. Other improvements included larger fuel tanks, increasing range by 50%, and stronger wings permitting a 2,000 lb (908 kg) higher gross takeoff weight. An auxiliary power unit was installed, along with a modernized electrical system, and the weapons were upgraded with continuous-feed mechanisms.[5]

138 of the 156 PBN-1s produced served with the Soviet Navy. The remaining 18 were assigned to training units at NAS Whidbey Island and NAF Newport.[6] Later, improvements found in the PBN-1 – notably, the larger tail – were incorporated into the amphibious PBY-6A.

[edit] Operational history

[edit] Roles in World War II

The final construction figure is estimated at around 4,000 aircraft, and these were deployed in practically all of the operational theatres of World War II. The PBY served with distinction and played a prominent and invaluable role in the war against the Japanese. This was especially true during the first year of the war in the Pacific, because the PBY and the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress were the only two available aircraft with the range necessary. As a result, they were used in almost every possible military role until a new generation of aircraft became available.

[edit] Anti-submarine warfare

PBYs were the most extensively used ASW aircraft[citation needed] in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters of the Second World War, and were also used in the Indian Ocean, flying from the Seychelles. Their duties included escorting convoys to Murmansk. By 1943, U-boats were well-armed with anti-aircraft guns and two Victoria Crosses were won by Catalina pilots pressing home attacks on U-boats in the face of heavy fire: John Cruickshank RAF, in 1944, against U-347 and in the same year Flight Lt. David Hornell RCAF (posthumously) against U-1225. Catalinas destroyed 40 U-boats in total but suffered losses of their own. On December 7, 1941, Mitsubishi A6M fighters from Akagi attacked NAS Kaneohe Bay at Oahu, Hawaii, destroying or disabling all[citation needed] 33 PBYs stationed there.

[edit] Maritime patrol
A PBY-5A of VP-61 over the Aleutian Islands in 1943.

In their role as patrol aircraft, Catalinas participated in some of the most notable engagements of World War II. The aircraft's parasol wing and large waist blisters allowed for a great deal of visibility and combined with its long range and endurance, made it well suited for the task.

* A Coastal Command Catalina, with a U.S. Navy officer as co-pilot, located the German battleship Bismarck on May 26, 1941 while she tried to evade Royal Navy forces.[7]
* A flight of Catalinas spotted the Japanese fleet approaching Midway Island, beginning the Battle of Midway.[8]
* An RCAF Canso flown by Squadron Leader L.J. Birchall foiled Japanese plans to destroy the Royal Navy's Indian Ocean fleet on April 4, 1942 when it detected the Japanese carrier fleet approaching Ceylon (Sri Lanka).[9]

[edit] Night attack and naval interdiction

Several squadrons of PBY-5As and -6As in the Pacific theater were specially modified to operate as night convoy raiders. Outfitted with state-of-the-art magnetic anomaly detection gear and painted flat black, these "Black Cats" attacked Japanese supply convoys at night. Catalinas were surprisingly successful in this highly unorthodox role.[10] Between August 1943 and January 1944, Black Cat squadrons had sunk 112,700 tons of merchant shipping, damaged 47,000 tons, and damaged 10 Japanese warships.[citation needed]

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) also operated Catalinas as night raiders, with four squadrons Nos. 11, 20, 42, and 43 mounting mine-laying operations from 23 April 1943 until July 1945 in the southwest Pacific deep into Japanese-held waters, that bottled up ports and shipping routes and kept ships in the deeper waters to become targets for US submarines; they tied up the major strategic ports such as Balikpapan that shipped 80% of Japanese oil supplies. In late 1944, their precision mining sometimes exceeded 20 hours in duration from as low as 200 feet in the hours of darkness. One included the bottling up the Japanese fleet in Manila Bay planned to assist General MacArthur's landing at Mindoro in the Philippines. They also operated out of Jinamoc in Leyte Gulf, and mined ports on the Chinese coast from Hong Kong as far north as Wenchow. They were the only non-American heavy bombers squadrons operating north of Morotai in 1945. The RAAF Catalinas regularly mounted nuisance night bombing raids on Japanese bases, they earned the motto of 'The first and the Furthest' as a testimony to their design and endurance. These raids included the major base at Rabaul. RAAF aircrews developed 'terror bombs', essentially empty beer bottles with razor blades inserted into the necks, these produced high pitched screams as they fell and kept Japanese soldiers awake and in fear of their life.[11]

[edit] Search and rescue
Search and Rescue OA-10 at USAF Museum

PBYs were employed by every branch of the US military as rescue aircraft. A PBY piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Adrian Marks (USN) rescued 56 sailors from the USS Indianapolis after the ship was sunk during World War II. PBYs continued to function in this capacity for decades after the end of the war.

[edit] Early commercial use

PBYs were also used for commercial air travel. Still the longest commercial flights (in terms of time aloft) ever made in aviation history were the Qantas flights flown weekly from 29 June 1943 through July 1945 over the Indian Ocean. To thumb their nose at the Japanese (who controlled the area), Qantas offered non-stop service between Perth and Colombo, a distance of 3,592 nm (5,652 km). As the PBY typically cruised at 110 knots, this took from 28–32 hours and was called the "flight of the double sunrise", since the passengers saw two sunrises during their non-stop journey. The flight was made with radio silence (because of the possibility of Japanese attack) and had a maximum payload of 1000 lbs or three passengers plus 65 kg of armed forces and diplomatic mail.[12]

[edit] Post-WWII employment
A civilian Catalina, modified for aerial firefighting

With the end of the war, flying boat versions were quickly retired from the U.S. Navy, but amphibians remained in service for many years. The last Catalina on active U.S. service was a PBY-6A operating with a Naval Reserve squadron, retired 3 January 1957.[2] It must be noted a PBY was being maintained at Clark Air Base, Republic of the Philippines, as late as 1968. The PBY subsequently equipped the world's smaller armed services, in fairly substantial numbers, into the late 1960s.

The USAF Strategic Air Command had PBYs (OA-10s) in service from 1946 through 1947.

The Brazilian Air Force flew Catalinas in naval air patrol missions against German submarines starting in 1943. The aircraft also performed air mail service. In 1948 a transport squadron was formed and equipped with PBY-5As converted to the role of amphibian transport. The 1st Air Transport Squadron (ETA-1) was based in the port city of Belem and flew Catalinas and C-47s in well-maintained condition until 1982. Catalinas were convenient for supplying military detachments scattered among the Amazon waterways. They reached places where only long range transport helicopters would dare go. ETA-1 insignia was a winged turtle with the motto "Though slowly, I always get there". Today, the last Brazilian Catalina (ex-RCAF) is displayed at the Airspace Museum (MUSAL), in Rio de Janeiro.[13]

Jacques-Yves Cousteau used a PBY-6A (N101CS) as part of his diving expeditions. His second son, Philippe, was killed while attempting a water landing in the Tagus river near Lisbon, Portugal, June 28, 1979. His plane had just been repaired when he took it out for a flight. As he landed, one of the plane's propellers separated, cut through the cockpit and killed the younger Cousteau.

Of the few dozen remaining airworthy Catalinas, the majority are in use today as aerial firefighting planes.

China Airlines, the official airline of the Republic of China (Taiwan) was founded with two PBY amphibians.

[edit] Catalina affair
Main article: Catalina affair

The Catalina Affair is the name given to a Cold War incident in which a Swedish military Catalina was shot down by Soviet aircraft over the Baltic Sea in June 1952 while investigating the earlier crash of a Swedish Douglas DC-3.

[edit] Variants
A US Army Air Forces OA-10 and her crew.
Catalina Mk Is of British No. 205 Squadron RAF undergoing servicing in their hangar at RAF Seletar, Singapore.

Prototype Model 28 flying boat later re-designated XBPY-1, one built (USN Bureau No. 9459). Later fitted with a 48-foot diameter ring to sweep magnetic mines. A 550-HP Ranger engine drove a generator to produce a magnetic field.[14]
Prototype version of the Model 28 for the United States Navy, a re-engined XP3Y-1 with two 900hp R-1830-64 engines, one built.
PBY-1 (Model 28-1)
Initial production variant with two 900hp R-1830-64 engines, 60 built.
PBY-2 (Model 28-2)
Equipment changes and improved performance, 50 built.
PBY-3 (Model 28-3)
Powered by two 1000hp R-1830-66 engines, 66 built.
PBY-4 (Model 28-4)
Powered by two 1050hp R-1830-72 engines, 33 built (including one initial as a XBPY-4 which later became the XBPY-5A).
PBY-5 (Model 28-5)
Either two 1200hp R-1830-82 or -92 engines and provision for extra fuel tanks, 683 built (plus one built at New Orleans), some aircraft to the RAF as the Catalina IVA and one to the United States Coast Guard. The PBY-5 was also built in the Soviet Union as the GST.
One PBY-4 converted into an amphibian and first flown in November 1939.
PBY-5A (Model 28-5A)
Amphibious version of the PBY-5 with two 1200hp R-1830-92 engines, first batch (of 124) had one 0.3in bow gun the remainder had two bow guns. 803 built including diversions to the United States Army Air Corps, the RAF (as the Catalina IIIA) and one to the United States Coast Guard.
Amphibious version with two 1200hp R-1830-92 engines and a taller fin and rudder. Radar scanner fitted above cockpit and two 0.5 in nose guns. 175 built including 21 transferred to the Soviet Navy.
One PBY-6A used by the United States Coast Guard as a staff transport.
Boeing Canada built version of the PBY-5, 165 built most supplied to the RAF and RNZAF as the Catalina IVB.
Boeing Canada built version of the PBY-5 but having a taller fin of the PBN-1, 67 built most supplied to the RAF as the Catalina VI.
Naval Aircraft Factory built version of the PBY-5 with major modification including a 2ft bow extension, re-designed wingtip floats and tail surfaces and a revised electrical system. 155 built for delivery to the RAF as the Catalina V although 138 were loaned to the Soviet Navy.
Canadian Vickers built version of the PBY-5A, 380 built including 150 to the Royal Canadian Air Force as the Canso-A and the rest to the USAAF as the OA-10A.
PBY-5A transferred to the United States Army Air Corps, 58 aircraft survivors re-designated A-10 in 1948.
Canadian Vickers built version of the PBV-1, survivors re-designated A-10A in 1948. Three additional aircraft from Navy in 1949 as A-10As.
Former PBY-6As transferred to the USAAC, 75 aircraft re-designated A-10B in 1948.
Catalina I
Direct purchase aircraft for the Royal Air Force, same as the PBY-5 with six 0.303in guns (one in bow, four in beam blisters and one aft of the hull step) and powered by two 1200hp R-1830-S1C3-G engines, 109 built.
Catalina IA
Operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force as the Canso, 14 built.
Catalina IB
Lend-lease PBY-5Bs for the RAF, 225 aircraft built.
Catalina II
Equipment changes, six built.
Catalina IIA
Vickers-Canada built Catalina II for the RAF, 50 built.
Catalina IIIA
Former US Navy PBY-5As used by the RAF on the North Atlantic Ferry Service, 12 aircraft.
Catalina IVA
Lend-lease PBY-5s for the RAF, 93 aircraft.
Catalina IVB
Lend-lease PB2B-1s for the RAF, some to the Royal Australian Air Force.
Catalina VI
Lend-lease PB2B-2s for the RAF, some to the RAAF.
Soviet built version of the PBY-5.

[edit] Operators
Main article: List of PBY Catalina operators

[edit] Survivors
Main article: PBY Catalina survivors

[edit] Specifications (PBY-5A)
Orthographically projected diagram of the {{{2}}}.

Data from Encyclopedia of World Air Power,[15] Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II,[4] Handbook of Erection and Maintenance Instructions for Navy Model PBY-5 and PBY-5A Airplanes[16] and Quest for Performance[17]

General characteristics

* Crew: 8 — pilot, co-pilot, bow turret gunner, flight mechanic, radioman, navigator and two waist gunners
* Length: 63 ft 10 7/16 in (19.46 m)
* Wingspan: 104 ft 0 in (31.70 m)
* Height: 21 ft 1 in (6.15 m)
* Wing area: 1,400 ft² (130 m²;)
* Empty weight: 20,910 lb (9,485 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 35,420 lb (16,066 kg)
* Powerplant: 2× Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp radial engines, 1,200 hp (895 kW each) each
* Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0309

* Drag area: 43.26 ft² (4.02 m²;)
* Aspect ratio: 7.73


* Maximum speed: 196 mph (314 km/h)
* Cruise speed: 125 mph (201 km/h)
* Range: 2,520 mi (4,030 km)
* Service ceiling: 15,800 ft (4,000 m)
* Rate of climb: 1,000 ft/min (5.1 m/s)
* Wing loading: 25.3 lb/ft² (123.6 kg/m²;)
* Power/mass: 0.034 hp/lb (0.056 kW/kg)
* Lift-to-drag ratio: 11.9


* 3× .30 cal (7.62 mm) machine guns (two in nose turret, one in ventral hatch at tail)
* 2× .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns (one in each waist blister)
* 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) of bombs or depth charges, torpedo racks were also available
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A Sworsfish bombing a destroyer type 1936a of the kriegsmarine
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Avro Lancaster + a spitfire MKIXc

Updated the sea and reworked the left radiator of the spitfire and lights
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B-17s Formation
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The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engine heavy bomber aircraft developed for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC), introduced in the 1930s. Competing against Douglas and Martin for a contract to build 200 bombers, the Boeing entry outperformed both competitors and more than met the Air Corps' expectations. Although Boeing lost the contract due to the prototype's crash, the Air Corps was so impressed with Boeing's design that they ordered 13 B-17s. The B-17 Flying Fortress went on to eventually evolve through numerous design advancements.

The B-17 was primarily employed by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) in the daylight precision strategic bombing campaign of World War II against German industrial, civilian, and military targets. The United States Eighth Air Force based in England and the Fifteenth Air Force based in Italy complemented the RAF Bomber Command's nighttime area bombing in Operation Pointblank, to help secure air superiority over the cities, factories and battlefields of Western Europe in preparation for Operation Overlord.[4] The B-17 also participated, to a lesser extent, in the War in the Pacific, where it conducted raids against Japanese shipping and airfields.

From its pre-war inception, the USAAC (later USAAF) touted the aircraft as a strategic weapon; it was a potent, high-flying, long-ranging bomber capable of unleashing great destruction, able to defend itself, and having the ability to return home despite extensive battle damage. It quickly took on mythic proportions.[5][6][7] Stories and photos of B-17s surviving battle damage widely circulated, increasing its iconic status.[8] Despite an inferior range and bombload compared to the more numerous B-24 Liberator,[9] a survey of Eighth Air Force crews showed a much higher rate of satisfaction in the B-17.[10] With a service ceiling greater than any of its Allied contemporaries, the B-17 established itself as a superb weapons system, dropping more bombs than any other U.S. aircraft in World War II. Of the 1.5 million tonnes of bombs dropped on Germany by U.S. aircraft, 640,000 were dropped from B-17s.

Design and development
Model 299 NX13372
Nose turret with gun fitted to the prototype.

On 8 August 1934, the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) tendered a proposal for a multi-engined bomber to replace the Martin B-10. Requirements were that it would carry a "useful bombload" at an altitude of 10,000 ft (3 km) for ten hours with a top speed of at least 200 mph (320 km/h).[12][13] They also desired, but did not require, a range of 2,000 mi (3200 km) and a speed of 250 mph (400 km/h). The Air Corps were looking for a bomber capable of reinforcing the air forces in Hawaii, Panama, and Alaska.[14] The competition would be decided by a "fly-off" at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. Boeing competed with the Douglas DB-1 and Martin Model 146 for the Air Corps contract.

The prototype B-17, designated Model 299, was designed by a team of engineers led by E. Gifford Emery and Edward Curtis Wells and built at Boeing's own expense.[13] It combined features of the experimental Boeing XB-15 bomber with the Boeing 247 transport airplane.[12] The B-17 was armed with bombs (up to 4,800 lb/2,200 kg on two racks in the bomb bay behind the cockpit) and five 0.30 in (7.62 mm) machine guns, and was powered by Pratt & Whitney R-1690 radial engines each producing 750 hp (600 kW) at 7,000 ft (2,100 m).[13] The first flight of the Model 299 was on 28 July 1935, with Boeing chief test-pilot Leslie Tower at the controls.[1][15] Richard Williams, a reporter for the Seattle Times coined the name "Flying Fortress" when the Model 299 was rolled out, bristling with multiple machine gun installations.[16] Boeing was quick to see the value of the name and had it trademarked for use. On 20 August, the prototype flew from Seattle to Wright Field in nine hours and three minutes at an average speed of 235 mph (378 km/h), much faster than the competition.[13]

At the fly-off, the four-engine Boeing design displayed superior performance over the twin-engine DB-1 and Model 146, and then-Major General Frank Maxwell Andrews of the GHQ Air Force believed that the long-range capabilities of four-engine large aircraft were more efficient than shorter-ranged twin-engined airplanes. His opinions were shared by the Air Corps procurement officers and, even before the competition was finished, they suggested buying 65 B-17s.[17]
Crashed Model 299

Development continued on the Boeing Model 299, and on 30 October 1935, the Army Air Corps test-pilot, Major Ployer Peter Hill and Boeing employee Les Tower, took the Model 299 on a second evaluation flight. The crew forgot to disengage the airplane's "gust lock," a device that held the bomber's movable control surfaces in place while the plane was parked on the ground, and having taken off, the aircraft entered a steep climb, stalled, nosed over and crashed, killing Hill and Tower (other observers survived with injuries).[18][19] The crashed Model 299 could not finish the evaluation, and while the Air Corps was still enthusiastic about the aircraft's potential, Army officials were daunted by the much greater expense per aircraft.[20][21] "The loss was not total, however, since the fuselage aft of the wing was intact, and the Wright Field Armament section was able to use it in subsequent gun mount development work, but Boeing's hopes for a substantial bomber contract were dashed."[22] Army Chief of Staff Malin Craig cancelled the order for 65 YB-17s, and ordered 133 of the twin-engine Douglas B-18 Bolo instead.[13][17]
Boeing Y1B-17 in flight.

Regardless, the USAAC had been impressed by the prototype's performance and, on 17 January 1936, the Air Corps ordered, through a legal loophole,[23] 13 YB-17s (after November 1936 designated Y1B-17 to denote its special F-1 funding) for service testing. The YB-17 incorporated a number of significant changes from the Model 299, including more powerful Wright R-1820-39 Cyclone engines replacing the original Pratt & Whitneys. Although the prototype was company owned and never received a military serial ("the B-17 designation itself did not appear officially until January 1936, nearly three months after the prototype crashed"),[24] the term "XB-17" was retroactively applied to the airframe and has entered the lexicon to describe the first Flying Fortress.

Between 1 March and 4 August 1937, 12 of the 13 Y1B-17s were delivered to the 2nd Bombardment Group at Langley Field in Virginia, and used for operational development and flight test.[12] One suggestion adopted was the use of a checklist, to avoid accidents such as the Model 299's.[23][25] In one of their first missions, three B-17s, directed by lead navigator Lieutenant Curtis LeMay, were sent by General Andrews to "intercept" the Italian ocean liner Rex 610 mi (980 km) off the Atlantic coast and take photographs. The successful mission was widely publicized.[26][27] The 13th Y1B-17 was delivered to the Material Division at Wright Field, Ohio, to be used for flight testing.[28]

A 14th Y1B-17 (37-369), originally constructed for ground testing of the airframe's strength, was upgraded and fitted with exhaust-driven turbochargers. Scheduled to fly in 1937, it encountered problems with the turbochargers and its first flight was delayed until 29 April 1938.[29] Modifications cost Boeing US$100,000 and took until spring 1939 to complete, but resulted in an increased service ceiling and maximum speed.[30] The aircraft was delivered to the Army on 31 January 1939 and was redesignated B-17A to signify the first operational variant.[31]
B-17Bs at March Field, California, prior to attack on Pearl Harbor.

In late 1937, the Air Corps ordered 10 more aircraft, designated B-17B and, soon after, another 29, none of which could be funded until mid-1939.[30] Improved with larger flaps, rudder and Plexiglas nose, the B-17Bs were delivered in five small batches between July 1939 and March 1940. They equipped two bombardment groups, one on each U.S. coast.[32][33]

Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, fewer than 200 B-17s were in service with the Army,[23] A total of 155 B-17s of all variants had been delivered between 11 January 1937 and 30 November 1941 but production quickly accelerated with the B-17 eventually setting the record for achieving the highest production rate for large aircraft.[34] The aircraft went on to serve in every World War II combat zone, and by the time production ended in May 1945, 12,731 aircraft had been built by Boeing, Douglas and Vega (a subsidiary of Lockheed).[35]
[edit] Operational history
Large formation of B-17Fs of the 92nd Bomb Group over Europe.

The B-17 began operations in World War II with the RAF in 1941, USAAF Eighth Air Force and Fifteenth Air Force units in 1942, and was primarily involved in the daylight precision strategic bombing campaign against German industrial targets. Operation Pointblank guided attacks in preparation for a ground assault.[4]

During World War II, the B-17 equipped 32 overseas combat groups, inventory peaking in August 1944 at 4,574 USAAF aircraft worldwide,[36] and dropped 640,036 tons (580,631 tonnes) of bombs on European targets (compared to 452,508 tons (410,509 tonnes) dropped by the Liberator and 463,544 tons (420,520 tonnes) dropped by all other U.S. aircraft). Approximately 4,750, or one third, of B-17s built were lost in combat.[9]
[edit] The RAF
RAF Fortress B.I AN529
ex-B-17C BO AAF S/N 40-2065
soc: 8 November 1941 North Africa.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) entered World War II with no heavy bomber of its own and while by 1941, the Short Stirling and Handley Page Halifax had become its primary bombers, in early 1940, the RAF entered into an agreement with the U.S. Army Air Corps to be provided with 20 B-17Cs, which were given the service name Fortress I. Their first operation was against Wilhelmshaven on 8 July 1941.[32][37][38] At the time, the Air Corps considered high-altitude flight to be 20,000 ft (6 km) but, to avoid being intercepted by fighter aircraft, the RAF bombed the naval barracks from 30,000 ft (9 km).[39] They were unable to hit their targets and temperatures were so low that the machine guns froze up.[40] On 24 July, they tried another target, Brest in France, but again missed completely.

By September, after the RAF had lost eight B-17Cs in combat or to accidents, Bomber Command had abandoned daylight bombing raids due to the Fortress I's poor performance. The remaining aircraft were transferred to different commands for deployment to various duties including coastal defence.[40] The experience had showed both the RAF and USAAF that the B-17C was not ready for combat, and that improved defenses, larger bomb loads and more accurate bombing methods were required, which would be incorporated in later versions. Moreover, even with these improvements, it was the USAAF and not the RAF that was willing to remain faithful to using the B-17 as a "day" bomber.[39]

Bomber Command transferred its remaining Fortress I aircraft to Coastal Command for use as very long range patrol aircraft. These were later augmented in August 1942 by 19 Fortress Mk II and 45 Fortress Mk IIA (B-17F and B-17E, respectively, the USAAF offered the B-17F before offering the B-17E, thus the apparently reversed designations).[41] A Fortress from No. 206 Squadron RAF sank U-627 on 27 October 1942: the first of 11 U-boat kills credited to RAF Fortress bombers during the war.[42]

No. 223 Squadron, as part of 100 Group operated a small number of Fortresses in support of the bombing offensive for jamming German radar.[43]
Four women pilots leaving their ship, "Pistol Packin' Mama", at the four-engine school at Lockbourne AAF, Ohio, during WASP training to ferry B-17 Flying Fortresses. L to R are Frances Green, Marget (Peg) Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn. (U.S. Air Force photo)
[edit] The USAAF

The Air Corps (renamed United States Army Air Forces or USAAF in 1941), utilizing the B-17 and other bombers, bombed from high altitudes using the then-secret Norden Bombsight, which was an optical electro-mechanical gyro-stabilized computer. During daylight bombing missions and sorties, the device was able to determine, from variables input by the bombardier, the point in space at which the bomber's ordnance type should be released to hit the target. The bombardier essentially took over flight control of the aircraft during the bomb run, maintaining a level altitude during the final moments.[44]

The USAAF began building up its air forces in Europe using B-17Es soon after entering the war. The first Eighth Air Force units arrived in High Wycombe, England on 12 May 1942, to form the 97th Bomb Group.[12] On 17 August 1942, 18 B-17Es of the 97th, including Yankee Doodle, flown by Major Paul Tibbets and Brigadier General Ira Eaker, were escorted by RAF Spitfires on the first USAAF raid over Europe, against railroad marshalling yards at Rouen-Sotteville in France.[12][45] The operation was a success, with only minor damage to two aircraft.
[edit] Combined offensive
Boeing B-17F radar bombing through clouds: Bremen, Germany, on 13 November 1943.

The two different strategies of the American and British Bomber commands were organized at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943. The resulting Operation Pointblank described a "Combined Bomber Offensive" that would weaken the Wehrmacht and establish air superiority in preparation of a ground offensive.[4]

Operation Pointblank opened with attacks on targets in Western Europe. General Ira C. Eaker and the Eighth Air Force placed highest priority on attacks on the German aircraft industry, especially fighter assembly plants, engine factories and ball-bearing manufacturers.[4]

On 17 April 1943, an attack on the Focke-Wulf plant at Bremen by 115 Fortresses met with little success. 16 aircraft were shot down, and 48 others were damaged.[46] The attacks did succeed, however, in diverting about half the Luftwaffe's fighter force to anti-bomber operations.
B-17F formation over Schweinfurt, Germany, 17 August 1943.

Since the airfield bombings were not appreciably reducing German fighter strength, additional B-17 groups were formed, Eaker ordered major missions deeper into Germany against important industrial targets. The 8th Air Force then targeted the ball-bearing factories in Schweinfurt, hoping to cripple the war effort there. The first raid on 17 August 1943 did not result in critical damage to the factories, with the 230 attacking B-17s being intercepted by an estimated 300 Luftwaffe fighters. 36 aircraft were shot down with the loss of 200 men, and coupled with a raid earlier in the day against Regensburg, a total of 60 B-17s were lost that day.[47]

A second attempt on 14 October 1943 would later come to be known as "Black Thursday".[48] Of the 291 attacking Fortresses, 59 were shot down over Germany, one ditched in the English Channel, five crashed in England, and 12 more were scrapped due to battle damage or crash-landings, a total loss of 77 B-17s. 122 bombers were damaged to some degree and needed repairs before their next flight. Out of 2,900 men in the crews, about 650 men did not return, although some survived as POWs. Five were killed and 43 wounded in the damaged aircraft that made it home, and 594 were listed as Missing in Action. Only 33 bombers landed without damage. The resulting losses were a result of concentrated attacks by over 300 German fighters.[49]
B-17G of the 384th Bomb Group on the bomb run.

These losses of air crews could not be sustained, and the USAAF, recognizing the vulnerability of heavy bombers against interceptors, suspended daylight bomber raids deep into Germany until the development of an escort fighter that could protect the bombers all the way from the United Kingdom to Germany and back. The Eighth Air Force alone lost 176 bombers in October 1943.[50] The Eighth Air Force was to suffer similar casualties on 11 January 1944 on missions to Oschersleben, Halberstadt and Brunswick. Doolittle had ordered the mission to be cancelled as the weather deteriorated, but the lead units had already entered hostile air space and continued with the mission. Most of the escorts turned back or missed the rendezvous, as a result 60 B-17s were destroyed[51][52] A third raid on Schweinfurt on 24 February 1944 highlighted what came to be known as "Big Week". With P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt fighters (equipped with improved drop tanks to extend their range) escorting the American heavies all the way to and from the targets, only 11 of 231 B-17s were lost.[53] The escort fighters reduced the loss rate to below seven percent, with only 247 B-17s lost in 3500 sorties while taking part in the Big Week raids.[54]

By September 1944, 27 of the 40 bomb groups of the Eighth Air Force and six of the 21 groups of the Fifteenth Air Force utilized B-17s. Losses to flak continued to take a high toll of heavy bombers through 1944, but by 27 April 1945, (two days after the last heavy bombing mission in Europe) the rate of aircraft loss was so low that replacement aircraft were no longer arriving and the number of bombers per bomb group was reduced. The Combined Bomber Offensive was effectively complete.[55]
[edit] Pacific Theater

Only five B-17 groups operated in the Southwest Pacific theater, and all converted to other types in 1943.
B-17C AAF S/N 40-2074 at Hickam Field. As Capt Raymond T. Swenson landed on 7 December 1941, gunfire set alight the flare storage box amidships, burning the plane in two. One crewman was killed by Zero attack. Photo by Tai Sing Loo. Loo's straw helmet is visible in the foreground.[56]

On 7 December 1941, a group of 12 B-17s of the 38th (four B-17C) and 88th (eight B-17E) Reconnaissance Squadrons, en route to reinforce the Philippines, were flown into Pearl Harbor from Hamilton Field, California, arriving during the Japanese attack. Leonard "Smitty" Smith Humiston, co-pilot on First Lieutenant Robert H. Richards' B-17C, AAF S/N 40-2049, reported that he thought the U.S. Navy was giving the flight a 21 gun salute to celebrate the arrival of the bombers, after which he realized that Pearl Harbor was under attack. The Fortress came under fire from Japanese fighter aircraft, though the crew was unharmed with the exception of one who suffered an abrasion on his hand. Enemy activity forced an abort from Hickam Field to Bellows Field, where the aircraft overran the runway and into a ditch where it was then strafed. Although initially deemed repairable, 40-2049 (11th BG / 38th RS) suffered more than 200 bullet holes and never flew again. Ten of the 12 Fortresses survived the attack.[57]
B-17E BO AAF S/N 41-9211
Typhoon McGoon II of the 11th BG / 98th BS, taken in January 1943 in New Caledonia. Note the antennas mounted above the nose Plexiglas used for radar tracking of surface vessels.

By 1941, the Far East Air Force (FEAF) based at Clark Field in the Philippines had 35 B-17s, with the War Department eventually planning to raise that to 165. When the FEAF received word of the attack on Pearl Harbor, General Lewis H. Brereton sent his bombers and fighters on various patrol missions to prevent them from being caught on the ground. Brereton planned B-17 raids on Japanese air fields in Formosa, in accordance with Rainbow 5 war plan directives, but this was overruled by General Douglas MacArthur. A series of disputed discussions and decisions, followed by several confusing and false reports of air attacks, delayed the authorization of the sortie. By the time that the B-17s and escorting Curtiss P-40 fighters were about to get airborne, they were destroyed by Japanese bombers of the 11th Air Fleet. The FEAF lost fully half its aircraft during the first strike, and was all but destroyed over the next few days.

Another early World War II Pacific engagement on 10 December 1941 involved Colin Kelly who reportedly crashed his B-17 into the Japanese battleship Haruna, which was later acknowledged as a near bomb miss on the heavy cruiser Ashigara. Nonetheless, this deed made him a celebrated war hero. Kelly's B-17C AAF S/N 40-2045 (19th BG / 30th BS) crashed about 6 mi (10 km) from Clark Field after he held the burning Fortress steady long enough for the surviving crew to bail out. Kelly was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.[58] Noted Japanese ace Saburo Sakai is credited with this kill, and in the process, gained respect for the ability of the Fortress to absorb punishment.[59]
B-17D captured by Japanese army, with marks of Hinomaru.

B-17s were used in early battles of the Pacific with little success, notably the Battle of Coral Sea and Battle of Midway. While there, the Fifth Air Force B-17s were tasked with disrupting the Japanese sea lanes. Air Corps doctrine dictated bombing runs from high altitude, but it was soon discovered that only one percent of their bombs hit targets. However, B-17s were operating at heights too great for most A6M Zero fighters to reach, and the B-17's heavy gun armament was easily more than a match for lightly protected Japanese planes.

On March 2, 1943, six B-17s of the 64th Squadron attacked a major Japanese troop convoy from 10,000 ft (3 km) during the early stages of the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, off New Guinea, using skip bombing to sink three merchant ships including the Kyokusei Maru. A B-17 was shot down by a New Britain-based A6M Zero, whose pilot then machine-gunned some of the B-17 crew members as they descended in parachutes and attacked others in the water after they landed.[60] Later, 13 B-17s bombed the convoy from medium altitude, causing the ships to disperse and prolonging the journey. The convoy was subsequently all but destroyed by a combination of low level strafing runs by Royal Australian Air Force Beaufighters, and skip bombing by USAAF B-25 Mitchells at 100 ft (30 m), while B-17s claimed five hits from higher altitudes.[61]

A peak of 168 B-17 bombers were in the Pacific theater in September 1942, with all groups converting to other types by mid-1943.
[edit] Bomber defense
Part of a USAAF stream of over 1,000 B-17s.
Formation flying through dense flak over Merseburg, Germany.

Before the advent of long-range fighter escorts, B-17s had only their .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns to rely on for defense during the bombing runs over Europe. As the war intensified, Boeing used feedback from aircrews to improve each new variant with increased armament and armor.[62] The number of defensive guns increased from four 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns and one 0.30 in (7.62 mm) nose machine gun in the B-17C, to 13 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns in the B-17G. But because the bombers could not maneuver when attacked by fighters, and during their final bomb run they needed to be flown straight and level, individual aircraft struggled to fend off a direct attack.

A 1943 survey by the Air Corps found that over half the bombers shot down by the Germans had left the protection of the main formation.[63] To address this problem, the United States developed the bomb-group formation, which evolved into the staggered combat box formation where all the B-17s could safely cover any others in their formation with their machine guns, making a formation of the bombers a dangerous target to engage by enemy fighters.[46][64] Luftwaffe "Jagdflieger" (fighter pilots) likened attacking a B-17 combat box formation to encountering a fliegendes Stachelschwein, or "flying porcupine". However, the use of this rigid formation meant that individual aircraft could not engage in evasive manoeuvres: they had to always fly in a straight line, which made them vulnerable to the German flak. Additionally, German fighter aircraft later used the tactic of high-speed strafing passes rather than engaging with individual aircraft to inflict maximum damage with minimum risk.

As a result, the B-17s' loss rate was up to 25% on some early missions (60 of 291 B-17s were lost in combat on the second Raid on Schweinfurt[65]), and it was not until the advent of effective long-range fighter escorts (particularly the P-51 Mustang) resulting in the degradation of the Luftwaffe as an effective interceptor force between February and June 1944, that the B-17 became strategically potent.

The B-17 was noted for its ability to absorb battle damage, still reach its target and bring its crew home safely. Wally Hoffman, a B-17 pilot with the Eighth Air Force during World War II, said, "The plane can be cut and slashed almost to pieces by enemy fire and bring its crew home."[66] Martin Caidin reported one instance in which a B-17 suffered a midair collision with a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, losing an engine and suffering serious damage to both the starboard horizontal stabilizer and the vertical stabilizer, and being knocked out of formation by the impact. The airplane was reported as shot down by observers, but it survived and brought its crew home without injury.[67] Its toughness more than compensated for its shorter range and lighter bomb load when compared to the Consolidated B-24 Liberator or the British Avro Lancaster heavy bombers. Stories abound of B-17s returning to base with tails having been destroyed, with only a single engine functioning or even with large portions of wings having been damaged by flak.[68] This durability, together with the large operational numbers in the Eighth Air Force and the fame achieved by the "Memphis Belle", made the B-17 a significant bomber aircraft of the war.

The B-17 design went through eight major changes over the course of its production, culminating in the B-17G, differing from its immediate predecessor by the addition of a chin turret with two .50 in (12.7 mm) caliber M2 Browning machine guns under the nose. This eliminated the B-17's main defensive weakness in head-on attacks.
[edit] The Luftwaffe
A severely damaged B-17 continues to fly after an attacking Bf 109 fighter collided with the aircraft.

After examining wrecked B-17s and B-24s, Luftwaffe officers discovered that on average it took around 20 hits with 20 mm (0.79 in) shells fired from the rear to bring them down. Pilots of average ability hit the bombers with only about two percent of the rounds they fired, so to obtain 20 hits, the average pilot had to fire one thousand 20 mm (0.79 in) rounds at a bomber. Early versions of the Fw 190, one of the best German interceptor fighters, were equipped with two 20 mm (0.79 in) MG FF cannons, which carried only 500 rounds, and later with the better Mauser MG 151/20 cannons, which had a longer effective range than the MG FF weapon. The German fighters found that when attacking from the front, where fewer defensive guns were pointed, it only took four or five hits to bring a bomber down.[69] To address the Fw 190's shortcomings, the number of cannons fitted was doubled to four with a corresponding increase in the amount of ammunition carried, and in 1944, a further upgrade to Rheinmetall-Borsig's 30 mm (1.2 in) MK 108 cannons was made, which could bring a bomber down in just a few hits.

The adoption by the Luftwaffe in mid-August 1943, as a "stand-off" style of offense, of the Werfer-Granate 21 (Wfr. Gr. 21) rocket mortar, with one strut-mounted tubular launcher fixed under each wing panel on the Luftwaffe's single engined fighters, and two under each wing panel on a few Bf 110 daylight Zerstörer aircraft, had the promise of being a major weapon. However, due to the ballistic drop of the fired rocket, even with the usual strut mounting of the launcher fixing it in about a 15° upward orientation, and the low numbers of fighters fitted with the weapons, the Wfr.Gr. 21 never had a major effect on the combat box formations of Fortresses. Also, the attempts of the Luftwaffe to fit heavy-calibre Bordkanone-series 37, 50 and even 75 mm (2.95 in) cannon on twin engined aircraft such as the special Ju 88P fighters, and even on one model of the Me 410 Hornisse, as anti-bomber weapons did not have much effect on the American strategic bomber offensive. The Me 262 had moderate success against the B-17 late in the war. With its usual nose-mounted armament of four MK 108 cannons, and with some examples later equipped with the R4M rocket, fired from underwing racks, it could fire from outside the range of the bombers' .50 in (12.7 mm) defensive guns and bring an aircraft down with one hit.[70]
Captured B-17F-27-BO in Luftwaffe colors, the USAAF-named "Wulf Hound", 41-24585, of the 360th BS/303rd BG, missing in action 16 October 1942.Operation by Kampfgeschwader 200. This was the first Block 27 airframe, with strengthened landing gear.

During World War II, after crash-landing or being forced down, approximately 40 B-17s were captured and refurbished by the Luftwaffe with about a dozen put back into the air. Given German markings and codenamed "Dornier Do 200",[71] the captured B-17s were used for clandestine spy and reconnaissance missions by the Luftwaffe, most often used by the Luftwaffe unit known as Kampfgeschwader 200.[71] One of the B-17s of KG200, bearing Luftwaffe markings A3+FB, was interned by Spain when it landed at Valencia airport, 27 June 1944, and remained there for the rest of the war. Some B-17s kept their Allied markings and were used in attempts to infiltrate B-17 formations and report on their position and altitude. The practice was initially successful, but the Army Air Force combat aircrews quickly developed and established standard procedures to first warn off, and then fire upon any "stranger" trying to join a group's formation.[12] Still other B-17s were used to determine the airplane's vulnerabilities and to train German interceptor pilots in tactics.[72] Few surviving aircraft were found by the Allies following the war.
[edit] Postwar history
[edit] U.S. Air Force

Following World War II, the B-17 was declared obsolete and the Army Air Forces retired most of its fleet. Flight crews ferried the bombers back across the Atlantic to the United States, where the majority were sold for scrap and melted down. Following its establishment as an independent service in 1947, the United States Air Force had B-17 Flying Fortresses (called F-9s: for Fotorecon, at first, later RB-17s) in service with the Strategic Air Command (SAC) from 1946 through 1951. The USAF Air Rescue Service of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) also operated SB-17s as so-called "Dumbo" air-sea rescue aircraft during the late 1940s and early to mid-1950s.

By the late 1950s, the last B-17s in operational USAF service were QB-17 target drones, DB-17P drone controllers (first used in 1946 during Operation Crossroads), and a few VB-17 executive transport aircraft. The last operational mission flown by a USAF Fortress was conducted on 6 August 1959, when DB-17P 44-83684 directed QB-17G 44-83717 out of Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico as a target for a Falcon air-to-air missile fired from an F-101 Voodoo. A retirement ceremony was held several days later at Holloman, after which 44-83684 was retired to the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center (MASDC) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. Perhaps the most famous B-17, the Memphis Belle, is being fastidiously restored to its wartime appearance by the National Museum of the United States Air Force.[73]
[edit] U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard

During the last year of the war and shortly thereafter, the United States Navy acquired 48 ex-USAAF B-17s for patrol and air-sea rescue work. At first, these planes operated under their original USAAF designations, but on July 31, 1945 they were assigned the naval aircraft designation PB-1, a designation which had originally been used in 1925 for an experimental flying boat. Since most of the Fortresses involved were actually built by Douglas or Lockheed and not by Boeing, a more logical designation would have been P4D-1W or P3V-1G respectively.
Under a program known as Cadillac II, the U.S. Navy fitted the AN/APS-20 radar system onto the B-17G aircraft, giving it the designation PB-1W.

Twenty-four B-17Gs (including one B-17F that had been modified to G standards) were used by the Navy under the designation PB-1W. The W stood for antisubmarine warfare. A large radome for an AN/APS-20 search radar was fitted underneath the fuselage and additional internal fuel tanks were added for longer range. These planes were painted dark blue, a standard Navy paint scheme which had been adopted in late 1944. Most of these planes were Douglas-built aircraft, flown directly from the Long Beach factory to the Naval Aircraft Modification Unit at NAS Johnsville/NAS Warminster, Pennsylvania during the summer of 1945, where the APS-20 search radar was fitted. However, the war ended before any PB-1Ws could be deployed and the defensive armament was subsequently deleted.

The first few PB-1Ws went to Patrol Bomber Squadron 101 (VPB-101) in April 1946. The PB-1W eventually evolved into an early warning aircraft by virtue of its APS-20 search radar. By 1947, PB-1Ws had been deployed to units operating with both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. VPB-101 on the East Coast was redesignated Air Test and Evaluation Squadron FOUR (VX-4) and assigned to NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island. VX-4 later became Airborne Early Warning Squadron TWO (VW-2) in 1952 and transferred to NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. VW-2's primary mission was early warning, with secondary missions of antisubmarine warfare and hurricane reconnaissance. Airborne Early Warning Squadron ONE (VW-1) was established in 1952 with four PB-1Ws at NAS Barbers Point, Hawaii. with elements drawn from Fleet Composite Squadron ELEVEN (VC-11) at NAS Miramar and Patrol Squadron 51 (VP-51) at NAS North Island in San Diego, California. VW-1's mission set was similar to that of VW-2.

PB-1Ws continued in USN service until 1955, gradually being phased out in favor of the Lockheed WV-2 (known in the USAF as the EC-121), a military version of the Lockheed 1049 Constellation commercial airliner. PB-1Ws were retired to the Naval Aircraft Storage Center at NAS Litchfield Park, Arizona and were stricken from inventory in mid-1956. Many were sold as surplus and ended up on the civil aircraft register and 13 were sold as scrap.

Two ex-USAAF B-17s were obtained by the Navy under the designation XPB-1 for various development programs. The first was transferred to the Navy in June 1945, and the second was transferred in August 1946. The second plane was used by the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in a jet engine test program and was stricken in 1955.

In May 1947, six additional B-17Gs of unknown serial numbers were transferred to the Navy and assigned BuNos 83993 to 83998. They were stored at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas until August 31, 1947, when they were stricken after no apparent use.

Two additional PB-1s were transferred to the Navy in 1950, these planes coming from the Air Force, which had modified two EB-17Gs to PB-1W configuration for test programs. After the completion of these tests, these planes were transferred to the Navy.
U.S. Coast Guard PB-1G stationed at Kodiak, Alaska.

Seventeen ex-USAAF Vega-built B-17Gs were used by the U.S. Coast Guard under the designation PB-1G. In July 1945, 18 B-17s were set aside by the USAAF for transfer to the Coast Guard via the Navy. These aircraft were initially assigned Navy Bureau Numbers and the first PB-1Gs were delivered to the Coast Guard beginning in July 1946. Only fifteen PB-1Gs were actually transferred to the Coast Guard. The USCG obtained one more aircraft directly from the USAF in 1947.

Coast Guard PB-1Gs were stationed throughout the hemisphere, with five at Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, two at CGAS San Francisco, two at NAS Argentia, Newfoundland, one at CGAS Kodiak, Alaska, and one in Washington state. They were used primarily for air-sea rescue, but were also used for iceberg patrol duties and for photo mapping. Air-sea rescue PB-1Gs usually carried a droppable lifeboat underneath the fuselage and were painted in yellow and black air-rescue markings. The chin turret was often replaced by a radome. In postwar years, Coast Guard PB-1Gs would often carry the national insignia on their vertical tails rather than on the fuselage, a practice that continues on U.S. Coast Guard fixed-wing aircraft to this day. The Coast Guard PB-1Gs served throughout the 1950s, the last example not being withdrawn from service until October 14, 1959. This airplane was sold as surplus, operated as an air tanker for many years, and is now on display in Arizona.[74]
[edit] Other uses

About a dozen B-17s are still operable of some 50 airframes known to survive. Many of these surviving examples are surplus or training aircraft, which stayed in the U.S. during World War II. However, there are a few exceptions.

Several B-17s, along with other World War II bombers, were converted into airliners or corporate aircraft. Other B-17s saw service, either as aerial spray aircraft against fire ant infestations in the southeastern United States, or as converted aerial tankers used for fighting forest fires in the western United States.[75]
[edit] Variants/design stages
Main article: B-17 Flying Fortress variants
Production numbers Variant Produced First flight
Model 299 1 28 July 1935[1]
YB-17 13 2 December 1936[76]
YB-17A 1 29 April 1938.[29]
B-17B 39 27 June 1939[44]
B-17C 38 21 July 1940[77]
B-17D 42 3 February 1941[78]
B-17E 512 5 September 1941[79]
B-17F 3,405 30 May 1942[80]
B-17F-BO 2,300
B-17F-DL 605
B-17F-VE 500
B-17G 8,680
B-17G-BO 4,035
B-17G-DL 2,395
B-17G-VE 2,250
Grand total 12,731

The B-17 went through several alterations in each of its design stages and variants. Of the 13 YB-17s ordered for service testing, 12 were used by the 2nd Bomb Group of Langley Field, Virginia to develop heavy bombing techniques, and the 13th was used for flight testing at the Material Division at Wright Field, Ohio.[28] Experiments on this aircraft led to the use of a turbo-supercharger, which would become standard on the B-17 line. A 14th plane, the Y1B-17A, originally destined for ground testing only, was upgraded with the turbocharger. When this aircraft had finished testing, it was re-designated the B-17A, and in April 1938 was the first aircraft to enter service under the B-17 designation.[28][30]
Blister turret of Model 299, not adopted for production

As the production line developed, Boeing engineers continued to improve upon the basic design. To enhance performance at slower speeds, the B-17B was altered to include larger rudder and flaps.[44] The B-17C changed from gun blisters to flush, oval-shaped windows.[77] Most significantly, with the B-17E version, the fuselage was extended by 10 ft (3.0 m), a much larger vertical fin and rudder were incorporated into the original design, a gunner's position in the tail and an improved nose were added. The engines were upgraded to more powerful versions several times, and similarly, the gun stations were altered on numerous occasions to enhance their effectiveness.[79]
B-17G nose detail

By the time the definitive B-17G appeared, the number of guns had been increased from seven to 13, the designs of the gun stations were finalized, and other adjustments were complete. The B-17G was the final version of the B-17, incorporating all changes made to its predecessor, the B-17F, and in total 8,680 were built, the last one on 9 April 1945.[81] Many B-17Gs were converted for other missions such as cargo hauling, engine testing and reconnaissance.[82] Initially designated SB-17G, a number of B-17Gs were also converted for search-and-rescue duties, later to be redesignated B-17H.[83]

Two versions of the B-17 were flown under different designations. These were the XB-38 and the YB-40. The XB-38 was an engine test-bed for Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled engines, should the Wright engines normally used on the B-17 become unavailable. The YB-40 was a heavily armed modification of the standard B-17 used before the P-51 Mustang, an effective long-range fighter, became available to act as escort. Additional armament included a power turret in the radio room, a chin turret (which went on to become standard with the B-17G) and twin .50 in (13 mm) guns in the waist positions. The ammunition load was over 11,000 rounds, making the YB-40 well over 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) heavier than a fully loaded B-17F. Unfortunately, the YB-40s with their numerous heavy modifications had trouble keeping up with empty bombers, and so, together with the advent of the P-51 Mustang, the project was abandoned and finally phased out in July 1943.[84][85]
SB-17G-95DL 44-83722
assigned to the 2nd ERS as a Search and Rescue aircraft.

Late in World War II, in Operation Aphrodite, at least 25 B-17s were fitted with radio controls, loaded with 20,000 lb (9,100 kg) of high-explosives, dubbed "BQ-7 Aphrodite missiles". Attacks on the V-site bunkers were also initiated by the Americans using radio controlled bombers packed with 25,000 lb (11,000 kg). of Torpex and TNT. Called Aphrodite drones, Operation CASTOR was begun on June 23, 1944, using the 388th Bombardment Group at Knettishall. An airfield in a sparsely populated area of Norfolk was chosen at RAF Fersfield (near Winfarthing). The drone was usually a B-17 Fortress with a B-34 Ventura being used to control the aircraft and crash it onto its target."[86] "The first four drones were sent to Mimoyecques, Siracourt, Watten and Wizernes on August 4, causing little damage. On the 6th, two more B-17s were crashed on the Watten site with little success. The project came to a sudden end with the unexplained mid-air explosion over the Blyth estuary of a B-24 Liberator, part of the United States Navy's contribution as "Project Anvil", en route for Heligoland piloted by Lieutenant" Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., future U.S. president John F. Kennedy's elder brother. Blast damage was caused over a radius of 5 miles (8.0 km). British authorities were anxious that no similar accidents should again occur.[86] Because few (if any) BQ-7s hit their target, the Aphrodite project was scrapped in early 1945.[87][88] During and after World War II, a number of weapons were tested and used operationally on B-17s. Some of these weapons included "razons" (radio-guided) glide bombs, and Republic-Ford JB-2s, also nicknamed "Thunderbugs" (American reverse-engineered models of the German V-1 Buzz Bomb). A much-used traveling airborne shot of a V-1/JB-2 launch in World War II documentaries was filmed from a USAF A-26 of the Air Proving Grounds, Eglin Air Force Base, launched from Santa Rosa Island, Florida. In the late 1950s, the last B-17s in United States Air Force service were QB-17 drones and DB-17P drone controllers, plus a few polished VB-17 squadron "hacks" (a 1953 request by the Wright Air Development Center to redesignate the QB-17s to Q-7 was turned down by Air Research & Development Command). The last operational mission flown by a USAF Fortress was conducted on 6 August 1959, when DB-17P 44-83684 directed QB-17G 44-83717 out of Holloman Air Force Base as a target for a Falcon air-to-air missile fired from an F-101 Voodoo fighter. A retirement ceremony was held several days later at Holloman, after which 44-83684 was retired to the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center (MASDC) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
[edit] Operators
Military operators of the B-17
Civil operators of the B-17
Main article: List of B-17 Flying Fortress operators

The B-17 was a versatile aircraft, serving in dozens of USAAF units in theaters of combat throughout World War II, and in non-bomber roles for the RAF. Its main use was in Europe, where its shorter range and smaller bombload relative to other aircraft available did not hamper it as much as in the Pacific Theater. Peak USAAF inventory (in August 1944) was 4,574 worldwide.[36]

* Argentina
* Bolivia
* Brazil
* Canada
* Colombia
* Denmark
* Dominican Republic
* France
* Germany
* Iran
* Israel
* Japan
* Mexico
* Nicaragua
* Peru
* Portugal
* South Africa
* Soviet Union
* Sweden
* United Kingdom
* United States

[edit] Survivors
Main article: Boeing B-17 survivors

There are a total of 53 surviving airframes worldwide :

* 15 active flying
* 9 on static display
* 2 currently undergoing restoration to fly
* 3 currently undergoing restoration for display
* 5 in storage
* 19 partial airframes/hulks

[edit] The Fortress as a symbol
The B-17's capacity to repel enemy attacks and still inflict heavy damage to the German war machine and production centers is imaginatively rendered in this caricature.
Over Germany, B-17 Flying Fortresses from the 398th Bombardment Group fly a bombing run to Neumünster, Germany, on 13 April 1945.

The B-17 Flying Fortress has become, for many reasons, an icon of American power and a symbol of its Air Force. It achieved a lasting fame in the general public, which has eluded most other bomber aircraft.[8]

During the 1930s, the USAAC, as articulated by then-Major General Frank Maxwell Andrews and the Air Corps Tactical School, touted the bomber as a strategic weapon.[91] General Henry H. Arnold, Chief of the Air Corps, recommended the development of bigger aircraft with better performance and the Tactical School agreed completely.[92] The B-17 was exactly what the Air Corps was looking for; it was a high-flying, long-ranging potent bomber capable of defending itself.

When the Model 299 was rolled out on 28 July 1935, bristling with multiple machine gun installations, Richard Williams, a reporter for the Seattle Times coined the name "Flying Fortress" with his comment "Why, it's a flying fortress!".[9] Boeing was quick to see the value of the name and had it trademarked for use.

After the initial B-17s were delivered to the Air Corps 2nd Bombardment Group, they were used on promotional flights emphasizing its great range and navigational precision. In January 1938, group commander Colonel Robert Olds flew a YB-17 from the east to west coast, setting a transcontinental record of 13 hours 27 minutes. He also broke the west-to-east coast record on the return trip, averaging 245 mph (394 km/h) in 11 hours 1 minute.[93] Six bombers of the 2nd Bombardment group took off from Langley Field on 15 February 1938 as part of a good will flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Covering 12,000 miles (19,000 km) they returned on 27 February.[76] In a well publicized mission on May 12 of the same year, three B-17s, "intercepted" and took photographs of the Italian ocean liner SS Rex 610 miles (980 km) off the Atlantic coast.[94]
B-17G-80BO 43-38172 8th AF 398th BG 601st BS damaged on a bombing mission over Cologne, Germany on 15 October 1944. Pilot 1st Lt. Lawrence De Lancey brought the wounded Fortress back to Nuthampstead, UK, where the photo was taken. Notice the upwards effect of the anti-aircraft shell; the bombardier S/Sgt. George E. Abbott was killed.

The Flying Fortress found a place in the public psyche as well. In 1943, Consolidated Aircraft commissioned a poll to see “to what degree the public is familiar with the names of the Liberator and the Flying Fortress.” Of 2,500 men in cities where Consolidated ads had been run in newspapers, only 73% had heard of the B-24 Liberator, while 90% knew of the B-17.[8]

Hollywood featured the airplane in its movies, such as Twelve O'Clock High, with Gregory Peck.[95] This film was made with the full cooperation of the United States Air Force and made use of actual combat footage. In 1964, the movie was made into a television show of the same name, and ran for three years. The B-17 also appeared in the 1938 movie Test Pilot with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, with Clark Gable in Command Decision in 1948, in Tora! Tora! Tora! in 1970, and in Memphis Belle with Eric Stoltz, Billy Zane and Harry Connick, Jr. in 1990.

During the war, the largest offensive bombing force, the Eighth Air Force, was run by officers who openly preferred the B-17. Lieutenant General Jimmy Doolittle wrote about his preference for equipping the Eighth with B-17s, citing the logistical advantage in keeping fielded forces down to a minimum number of aircraft types with their unique servicing and spares. For this reason, he wanted B-17 bombers and P-51 fighters for the Eighth. His views were supported by Eighth Air Force statisticians, whose studies purportedly showed that Fortresses had utility and survivability much greater than that of the B-24.[8]

Loved by its crews for bringing them home despite extensive battle damage, its durability, especially in belly-landings and ditchings, quickly took on mythical proportions.[5][6][7] Stories and photos of B-17s surviving battle damage widely circulated, boosting its iconic status.[8] Despite an inferior performance and bombload compared to the more numerous B-24 Liberator,[9] a survey of Eighth Air Force crews showed a much higher rate of satisfaction in the B-17.[10]

The most famous B-17, the Memphis Belle, toured the U.S. with its crew to reinforce national morale (and to sell War Bonds), and starred in a USAAF documentary, Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress.[96]

After the war ended, most B-17s were scrapped, but the U.S. Air Force did keep some B-17s for VIP transports and drone directors. The United States Navy and U.S. Coast Guard obtained thirty B-17s beginning in 1945 for over-water patrols as PB-1Gs, an air rescue aircraft similar to USAF B-17Hs, and PB-1Ws, a patrol aircraft with early warning radar installations aboard. The war ended before any PB-1Ws were operational and defensive armament was subsequently deleted. The Coast Guard retired the last PB-1G, BuNo 77254, in October 1959, making it the last U.S. military Flying Fortress in operation.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the surviving Fortresses had to earn their keep, as operation of a four-engine aircraft was costly, and the Warbirds preservation movement had not yet begun. The preservation of the remaining Fortresses gained steam when firebomber B-17s began to come on the market in the 1970s.
[edit] Notable B-17s
B-17G Shoo Shoo Baby

* Aluminum Overcast
* Fuddy Duddy
* Memphis Belle
* My Gal Sal
* Nine-O-Nine
* Old 666
* Sally B
* Sentimental Journey
* Shoo Shoo Baby
* Texas Raiders
* The Swoose
* Yankee Doodle (aircraft)
* Piccadilly Lilly
* Venus Ramey (aircraft)
* Swamp Ghost
* Days Pay
* Big Red

[edit] Noted B-17 pilots and crew members
Maynard H. Smith receiving Medal of Honor from War Secretary, Henry L. Stimson.
Forrest L. Vosler receiving Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt.
L-R, Nancy Love, pilot and Betty (Huyler) Gillies, co-pilot, the first women to fly the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber.
Nuthampstead, England. Aircraft mechanics with the 398th Bombardment Group change a B-17 Flying Fortress engine. During the group's stay in England from May 1944 to April 1945, the 398th flew 195 missions and lost 292 men and 70 B-17 aircraft in combat.
[edit] Medal of Honor awards

Many B-17 crew members received military honors and 17 received the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration awarded by the United States:[97]

* Brig Gen Frederick Castle[98]
* 2nd Lt Robert Femoyer[99]
* 1st Lt Donald Gott (awarded posthumously)[100]
* 2nd Lt David Kingsley[101]
* 1st Lt William R. Lawley, Jr.[102]
* Sgt Archibald Mathies (awarded posthumously)[103]
* 1st Lt Jack W. Mathis (the first airman in the European theater to be awarded the Medal of Honor) (posthumous)[104]
* 2nd Lt William E. Metzger, Jr. (awarded posthumously)[100]
* 1st Lt Edward Michael[105]
* 1st Lt John C. Morgan[106]
* Capt Harl Pease (awarded posthumously)[107]
* 2nd Lt Joseph Sarnoski (awarded posthumously)[108]
* S/Sgt Maynard H. Smith[109]
* 1st Lt Walter E. Truemper (awarded posthumously)[103]
* S/Sgt Forrest L. Vosler[110]
* Brig Gen Kenneth Walker[111]
* Maj Jay Zeamer, Jr.[112]

[edit] Other military achievements or events

* Allison C. Brooks (1917–2006): Was awarded numerous military decorations, and was ultimately promoted to the rank of Major General and served in active duty until 1971.
* Captain Werner G. Goering: American-born nephew of the Nazi Commander of the Luftwaffe in World War II, Hermann Göring.[113]
* Immanuel J. Klette (1918–1988): Second-generation German-American whose 91 combat missions were the most flown by any Eighth Air Force pilot in World War II.[114]
* Colin Kelly (1915–1941): Pilot of the first U.S. B-17 lost in action.[115]
* Col Frank Kurtz (1911–1996): The USAAF's most decorated pilot of World War II; Commander of the 463rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), 15th Air Force, Celone Field, Foggia, Italy; Clark Field Philippines attack survivor; Olympic bronze medalist in diving (1932), 1944–1945; father of actress Swoosie Kurtz.
* Gen Curtis LeMay (1906–1990): Became head of the Strategic Air Command and head of the USAF.
* Lt Col Nancy Love (1914–1976) and Betty (Huyler) Gillies (1908–1998): The first women to be certified to fly the B-17, in 1943.[116]
* Col Robert K. Morgan (1918–2004): Pilot of Memphis Belle.
* Lt Col Robert Rosenthal (1917–2007): Commanded the only surviving B-17, "Rosie's Riveters", of a US 8th Air Force raid by the 100th Bomb Group on Münster in 1943, earned sixteen medals for gallantry (including one each from Britain and France), and led the raid on Berlin on February 3, 1945 that is likely to have ended the life of Roland Freisler, the Third Reich's infamous "hanging judge".
* Brig Gen Paul Tibbets (1915–2007): Flew with the 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy) with both the 8th Air Force in England and the 12th Air Force in North Africa; later pilot of the B-29 Enola Gay dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
* Robert Webb (1922–2002): One of the youngest bomber pilots in the U.S. Army Air Forces, received the Distinguished Flying Cross with seven Oak Leaf Clusters.
* 1st Lt Eugene Emond (1921–1998): Lead Pilot for Man O War II Horsepower Limited received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, American Theater Ribbon and Victory Ribbon. Was part of D-Day and witnessed one of the first German jets when a ME-262 flew through his formation over Germany: one of the youngest bomber pilots in the U.S. Army Air Forces .
* 1st Lt Emil "Mickey" Cohen (1924–2008): Nicknamed "The Kid". Flew with the 447th Bombardment Group, 709th squadron, out of Rattlesden, England. Piloted the Barbara Jane and two missions on The Blue Hen Chick. Was the youngest B-17 pilot in the 8th Air Force and may have been the youngest bomber pilot in the U.S. Army Air Forces.

[edit] Civilian achievements or events

* Martin Caidin (1927–1997): Author of Cyborg, the story that formed the basis of The Six Million Dollar Man wrote the saga of the last transatlantic formation flight of B-17s ever made, Everything But the Flak.
* Clark Gable (1901–1960): Academy Award-winning film actor, five missions as waist gunner with several groups from May to September 1943, including the B-17 Eight Ball of the 359th Bomb Squadron (351st Bomb Group).
* Tom Landry (1924–2000): American football player and coach, flew 30 missions over Europe in 1944–45 as a B-17 pilot with the 493rd Bomb Group, surviving a crash landing in Czechoslovakia. (His older brother Robert died in a B-17 crash)[117]

Clark Gable with 8th AF B-17F with pre-Cheyenne tail position, in Britain, 1943

* Norman Lear: Radio operator, with the 463rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), 15th Air Force, Celone Field, Foggia, Italy; television producer of American sitcoms Sanford and Son, Maude and All in the Family, among others.
* Gene Roddenberry (1921–1991): Creator of Star Trek; flew B-17s for the 394th Bomb Squadron, 5th Bomb Group (H), in the Pacific theater.[118]
* Robert Rosenthal (1917–2007): Assistant to the U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, where he interrogated Hermann Göring, pilot with the 100th Bomb Group.
* Brigadier General Robert Lee Scott, Jr. (1908–2006): Best known for his autobiography God is My Co-Pilot, about his exploits in World War II with the Flying Tigers and the United States Army Air Forces in China and Burma.
* James Stewart (1908–1997): Academy Award-winning film actor, instructed in B-17s before flying 20 combat missions in B-24s with the 8th Air Force, England; retired from Air Force Reserve as a Brigadier General.[119]
* Bert Stiles (1920–1944): 91st Bomb Group co-pilot from March to October 1944, short-story author, killed in action flying a P-51 on a second tour.
* Smokey Yunick (1923–2001): Award-winning motorsports car designer and premier NASCAR crew chief flew 50 missions as a B-17 pilot with the 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the 15th Air Force, out of Amendola Airfield, Foggia, Italy.[120]

[edit] Specifications (B-17G)
3-view projection of a B-17G, with inset detail showing the "Cheyenne tail" and some major differences with other B-17 variants.

Data from The Encyclopedia of World Aircraft[29]

General characteristics

* Crew: 10: Pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier/nose gunner, flight engineer-top turret gunner, radio operator, waist gunners (2), ball turret gunner, tail gunner[121]
* Length: 74 ft 4 in (22.66 m)
* Wingspan: 103 ft 9 in (31.62 m)
* Height: 19 ft 1 in (5.82 m)
* Wing area: 1,420 ft² (131.92 m²)
* Airfoil: NACA 0018 / NACA 0010
* Aspect ratio: 7.57
* Empty weight: 36,135 lb (16,391 kg)
* Loaded weight: 54,000 lb (24,495 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 65,500 lb (29710 kg)
* Powerplant: 4× Wright R-1820-97 "Cyclone" turbosupercharged radial engines, 1,200 hp (895 kW) each


* Maximum speed: 287 mph (249 kn, 462 km/h)
* Cruise speed: 182 mph (158 kn, 293 km/h)
* Range: 2,000 mi (1,738 nmi, 3,219 km) with 2,722 kg (6,000 lb) bombload
* Service ceiling: 35,600 ft (10,850 m)
* Rate of climb: 900 ft/min (4.6 m/s)
* Wing loading: 38.0 lb/ft² (185.7 kg/m²)
* Power/mass: 0.089 hp/lb (150 W/kg)


* Guns: 13 × .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns in 4 turrets in dorsal, ventral, nose and tail, 2 in waist positions, 2 beside cockpit and 1 in the lower dorsal position
* Bombs:
o Short range missions (<400 mi): 8,000 lb (3,600 kg)
o Long range missions (≈800 mi): 4,500 lb (2,000 kg)
o Overload : 17,600 lb (7,800 kg)
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Consolidated B-24 Liberator

The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was an American heavy bomber, designed by Consolidated Aircraft Company of San Diego, California. Its mass production was brought into full force by 1943 with the aid of the Ford Motor Company through its newly constructed Willow Run facility, where peak production had reached one B-24 per hour and 650 per month in 1944.[3] Other factories soon followed. The B-24 ended World War II as the most produced Allied heavy bomber in history, and the most produced American military aircraft at over 18,000 units, thanks in large measure to Henry Ford and the harnessing of American industry.[4] It still holds the distinction as the most-produced American military aircraft. The B-24 was used by several Allied air forces and navies, and by every branch of the American armed forces during the war, attaining a distinguished war record with its operations in the Western European, Pacific, Mediterranean, and China-Burma-India Theaters.

Often compared with the better-known B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-24 was a more modern design with a higher top speed, greater range, and a heavier bomb load; however, it was also more difficult to fly, with heavy control forces and poor formation-flying characteristics. Popular opinion among aircrews and general's staffs tended to favor the B-17's rugged qualities above all other considerations in the European Theater.[5] The placement of the B-24's fuel tanks throughout the upper fuselage and its lightweight construction, designed to increase range and optimize assembly line production, made the aircraft vulnerable to battle damage.[6] The B-24 was notorious among American aircrews for its tendency to catch fire. History: Life for the B-24 heavy bomber began in 1939, when the U.S. Army Air Corps initiated a request for a new bomber designed to exceed the performance of the B-17. Consolidated Aircraft responded quickly with its proposal, labeled Consolidated Model 32 and, on March 30 of 1939, was awarded the contract. One day short of nine months later, on December 29, 1939, the first flight of the XB-24 bomber prototype took place.

Slightly smaller than the B-17, the turbosupercharger-equipped B-24 flew farther with a bigger bomb load than the much more publicized Boeing aircraft. Of seven service-test YB-24s, six were sent to the Royal Air Force (RAF) under the export designation LB-30A. Because they lacked turbosuperchargers and self-sealing fuel tanks, the RAF found them unsuitable for combat duty over Europe. Instead, they were stripped of their armament and put into service as transports on the Trans-Atlantic Return Ferry Service, which had been established to send air crews to Montreal to take delivery of American aircraft consigned to the British war effort.

Flying for the Army Air Corps as the B-24, and the U.S. Navy as the PB4Y-1, the plane also saw service in the Royal Air Force where it was known simply as the Liberator. There was also a transport version known as the C-87, one of which was Winston Churchill's personal aircraft, carrying him to historic meetings at Moscow and Casablanca, among other locations.

Before the last one was retired from Air Force service in 1953, the plane was produced in variations ranging through type M. The various model numbers were often the result of minor changes, like the relocation of internal equipment, but one major revision, the conversion of the standard Navy B-24 (PB4Y-1) to the PB4Y-2 Privateer, involved a significant rework that exchanged the familiar twin tail for a single tall tail fin and rudder combination. It also had a stretched forward fuselage that placed the pilot's compartment well in front of the un-turbocharged Pratt & Whitney R1830-94 Twin Wasp engines.

Among the features that distinguished the B-24 from the B-17 were its tricycle landing gear (the first installed in a heavy operational aircraft), the mid-mounted, high-lift Davis wing that achieved 20 percent less drag than conventional airfoils of the time, twin tail fins, oval-shaped engine cowlings necessitated by the mounting of turbosuperchargers, unique roll-up bomb bay doors that reduced drag considerably when open, and a fully retractable ventral machine gun turret. The B-24 was also the first to employ Hamilton hydromatic quick-feathering three-blade propellers.

While designed as a heavy bomber, the B-24 experienced more than 100 modifications and conversions for such assignments as photography, mine laying, and cargo hauling (including a C-109 fuel tanker version that flew "the Hump" to refuel B-29s operating out of forward bases in China). More than 18,000 B-24s were built during WWII, more than any other American aircraft. Given its abilities and "convert-abilities," the numbers make perfect sense. However, a postwar attempt to combine portions of the B-24 and PB4Y-2 with a new fuselage to create the Convair Model 39 airliner was not a commercial success, with only one prototype being built.

Of the many thousands of B-24s and derivatives built, only three remain airworthy, all in the United States. [History by Kevin Murphy]

Nicknames: Lib; Ford's Folly; Flying Boxcar; Liberator Express (C-87 variant); C-One-Oh-Boom (C-109 fuel-carrying variant); Lamp Lighter (PB4Y-2s dropping parachute flares in Korea).

Specifications (B-24H/J):
Engines: Four 1,200-hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-65 Twin Wasp turbocharged radial piston engines.
Weight: Empty 36,500 lbs., Max Overload Takeoff 71,200 lbs.
Wing Span: 110ft. 0in.
Length: 67ft. 2in.
Height: 18ft. 0in.
Maximum Speed at 25,000 ft: 290 mph
Cruising Speed: 215 mph
Ceiling: 28,000 ft.
Range: 2,100 miles
10 12.7-mm (0.5-inch) machine guns in nose, upper/ventral ball turrets and tail turret, and lateral fuselage positions.
12,800 lb. maximum bomb load.

Number Built: 18,000+

Number Still Airworthy: Three (Two B-24Js and one LB-30)
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My Art Screen Collection of Aviation Art
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The Grumman G-21 Goose amphibious aircraft was designed as an eight-seat "commuter" plane for businessmen in the Long Island area. The Goose was Grumman’s first monoplane to fly, its first twin-engined aircraft and its first aircraft to enter commercial airline service. During World War II, the Goose became an effective transport for the US military (including the Coast Guard), as well as serving with many other air forces. During hostilities, the Goose took on an increasing number of combat and training roles. In postwar use, the adaptable little transport continued in use.

Design and development

In 1936, a group of wealthy residents of Long Island, including E. Roland Harriman, approached Grumman and commissioned an aircraft that they could use to fly to New York City.[1] In response the Grumman Model G-21 was designed as a light amphibian transport. The typical Grumman rugged construction was matched to an all-metal, high-winged monoplane powered by two 450 horsepower (340 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Jr. nine-cylinder, air-cooled radial engines mounted on the leading edge of high-set wings. The deep fuselage served also as a hull and was equipped with hand-cranked retractable landing gear. First flight of the prototype took place on 29 May 1937.[2]

The fuselage also proved versatile as it provided generous interior space that allowed fitting for either a transport or luxury airliner role. Having an amphibious configuration also allowed the G-21 to go just about anywhere, and plans were made to market it as an amphibian airliner.[3] Some had a hatch in the nose, which could remain open in flight.

[edit] Modifications
JRF-1 Goose

There were a number of modifications of the Goose, but the most numerous were those by McKinnon Enterprises, who made three different conversions.[citation needed] The first involved replacing the Goose's engines with four Lycoming GSO-480 piston engines. The second, named "Turboprop Goose" involved replacing the engines with two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A turboprops. The third and final variant was the "Turbo-Goose", which was based on the"Turboprop Goose", but with larger windows, and retractable floats on the wings.

[edit] New production

In November 2007, Antilles Seaplanes of Gibsonville, North Carolina announced it was restarting production of the Goose.[4] PWC PT6A-34 turboprops will replace the original Pratt & Whitney piston engines,[5] and the airframe and systems will be updated, increasing the seating capacity from eight to ten; the aircraft will be known as the Antilles Super Goose. The first example is now being assembled.[4][6]

[edit] Operational history
Goose of the Royal Air Force
Grumman G.21 of Alaska Island Air in 1989

Envisioned as corporate or private "flying yachts" for Manhattan millionaires, initial production models normally carried two to three passengers and had a bar and small toilet installed. As well as being marketed to small air carriers, the G-21 was also promoted as a military transport. In 1938, the US Army Air Force purchased the type as the OA-9 (later, in the war years, examples impressed from civilian ownership were designated the OA-13A). The most numerous of the military versions were the United States Navy variants, designated the JRF.

The amphibian was soon adopted by the Coast Guard and, during World War II, it also served with the RCAF in the transport, reconnaissance, rescue and training roles. The G.21 was used for air-sea rescue duties by the Royal Air Force (RAF). The RAF, in a common naming convention with all of its aircraft, designated the type as "Goose".

On returning to civilian service, after the war, the Goose found continued commercial use in locations from the wilderness of Alaska to the sunny climes of Catalina.

A total of 345 were built, with about 60 still airworthy today, most being in private ownership, some of them operating in modified forms.[7]

[edit] Operators

[edit] Military operators


* Royal Canadian Air Force


* Paraguayan Naval Aviation


* Peruvian Air Force

United Kingdom

* Royal Air Force

United States

* United States Army Air Corps
* United States Army Air Force
* United States Navy
* United States Coast Guard

[edit] Governmental operators

United States

* United States Fish and Wildlife Service operated two aircraft.


* Royal Canadian Mounted Police[8]

[edit] Civil operators
1942 Grumman Goose at Akutan, Alaska, operated by PenAir
British Guiana Govt. Airways Grumman Goose c. 1955. Piarco Airport, Trinidad.


* Asiatic Petroleum

British Guiana

* British Guiana Airways


* Air BC
* Almon Landair Ltd
* European Coastal Airways
* H.J. O'Connell Supplies
* Oakley Air Ltd Canada
* Pacific Coastal Airlines
* Sioux Narrows Airways
* West Coast Air Sevices

Dutch East Indies

* Koninklijke Nederlandsch-Indische Luchtvaart Maatschappij


* Yaukuve Resort


* Loftleiðir

United States

* Aero Accessories Inc.
* Air Metal Fabricators
* Alaska Coastal Airlines
* Alaska Coastal-Ellis Airlines
* Alaska Island Air
* Alaska Fish and Game
* Amphib. Inc.
* Antilles Airboats
* Avalon Air Transport
* Baron Aviation
* Caribbean Clipper
* Catalina Air
* Catalina Channel Airlines
* Devcon Construction
* Flight Data Inc.
* Ford Motors
* Goose Aviation
* Gulf Oil
* Kodiak Airways
* Kodiak Western
* North Coast Aero
* Ozark Management
* PenAir
* SouthEast Skyways
* Superior Oil
* Teufel Nursuries
* Tuthill Corporation
* Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle
* Waterlines Ltd
* Webber Airlines

[edit] Accidents and incidents

* June 22 1972. N1513V of Reeve Aleutian Airways written off at False Pass, Alaska.[9][10]
* September 2, 1978, Charles F. Blair, Jr., former Grumman test pilot and husband to actress Maureen O'Hara was flying a Grumman Goose from St. Croix to St. Thomas when the plane crashed into the ocean due to engine failure. He and three passengers were killed, seven passengers were severely injured.
* On 3 August, 2008, a Grumman Goose of Pacific Coastal Airlines with seven passengers and crew crashed during a flight from Port Hardy to Chamiss Bay. The aircraft was completely destroyed by a fire. There were only two survivors.[11]
* On 16 November, 2008 a Grumman Goose of Pacific Coastal Airlines with 8 passengers and crew crashed during a flight from Vancouver International Airport to Toba Inlet, BC. The plane exploded into a mass of burning wreckage according to the lone survivor. This person was rescued up by the Coast Guard on South Thormanby Island off British Columbia's Sunshine Coast. The company resumed floatplane operations on November 19, 2008.[12]

[edit] Specifications (JRF Goose)

General characteristics

* Crew: two
* Length: 38 ft 4 in (11.7 m)
* Wingspan: 49 ft (14.9 m)
* Height: 12 ft (3.7 m)
* Wing area: 375 ft² (34.8 m²;)
* Empty weight: 5,571 lb (2,527 kg)
* Loaded weight: 7,200 lb (3,273 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 8,200 lb (3,720 kg)
* Powerplant: 2× Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior SB-2 air-cooled radials, 450 hp (340 kW) each


* Maximum speed: 184 mph (296 km/h)
* Range: 1,050 mi (1,690 km)
* Service ceiling: 21,000 ft (6,400 m)
* Rate of climb: 1,240 ft/min (380 m/min)
* Wing loading: 21.9 lb/ft² (106.9 kg/m²;)
* Power/mass: 0.11 hp/lb (0.18 kW/kg)


* 2 x .50-cal machine guns
* 2 x 250-lb depth charges
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B-17 Flying Fortress
World War II

The B-17 Flying Fortress is one of the most famous airplanes ever built. The Army Air Forces first ordered the aircraft as a static test bed, but it was converted to a flight capable aircraft for testing supercharged engines. The converted aircraft was designated Y1B-17A and was one of a kind. The B-17 prototype flew on July 28, 1935, as Boeing Model 299. A variety of engine installations and configurations eventually led to the bottom-mounted turbo-supercharger which became standard on the B-17B -- the first production model of the B-17 series of bombers.

A flight of B-17s enroute to Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941 was assumed to be the large formation of aircraft tracked on radar early that Sunday morning. This formation turned out to be the carrier-based attack and fighter aircraft of Japan. The B-17s arrived later in the day and became the first B-17s to see combat in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II.

Few B-17s were in service on that infamous day, but production quickly accelerated. B-17s served in every World War II combat zone. The aircraft is best known for daylight strategic bombing of German industrial targets. The B-17E, the first mass-produced model 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 B-17G was the result of an almost continuous improvement program of earlier B-17 models. The -G model was basically the production version of the B-17F after the modifications and improvements were incorporated into the design. Although the Bendix chin turret is the most obvious improvement incorporated into the B-17G, it was actually first used on late model B-17Fs.

In the Pacific, the planes earned a deadly reputation with the Japanese, who dubbed them "four-engine fighters." The Fortresses were also legendary for their ability to stay in the air after taking brutal poundings. They sometimes limped back to their bases with large chunks of the fuselage shot off.

There are many B-17 Flying Fortresses with famous histories, such as the "Hell's Angels" and the "Memphis Belle." These are just two of the B-17s that were pulled from front line service and flown back to the United States to conduct war bond tours. "Hell's Angels," a B-17F of the 358th Bomb Squadron, 303rd Bomb Group was one of the first aircraft to participate in a war bond tour. The aircraft completed 48 missions without ever turning back from its assigned target. The members of squadron got the idea to sign the "Hell's Angels" before it left for the states. The idea caught on and other squadrons signed their aircraft before sending them back to the U.S.

The "Memphis Belle" has the distinction of being one of the first B-17s to complete 25 combat missions. It was also the first B-17 with 25 combat missions sent back to tour the U.S. to help sell war bonds. The aircraft was assigned to the 91st Bomb Group, 324th Bomb Squadron and based at Bassingbourn, England. The aircraft is one of the few B-17s remaining and is on display in Memphis, Tenn. A movie "Memphis Belle" is based on the crew's missions.

Production ended in May 1945 and totaled 12,726. Boeing plants built a total of 6,981 B-17s in various models, and another 5,745 were built under a nationwide collaborative effort by Douglas and Lockheed (Vega). Only a few B-17s survive today; most were scrapped at the end of the war.

General Characteristics (B-17G)
Crew: 10
* Primary function: bomber
* Length: 74 feet 9 inches
* Height: 19 feet 1 inch
* Weight: 65,500 pounds gross weight (actual - normal load)
* Armament: Twelve .50-cal. machine guns and 8,000 pounds of bombs
* Engines: Four Wright R-1820-97 turbo-supercharged radials of 1200 horsepower each
* Maximum speed: 302 mph at 25,000 feet
* Cruising speed: 160 mph
* Service ceiling: 35,600 feet
* Range: 3,400 miles (maximum ferry range)

Sources compiled from U.S. Air Force Museum


* Guns: 13× M2 Browning .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns in twin turrets, plus single dorsal, fore and aft beam positions (with optional extra nose armament fitted in glazed nose).
* Bombs: Although it theoretically could carry 17,417 lb (7900 kg) of bombs, the B-17 rarely flew combat missions with more than 5,071 lb (2300 kg).[citation needed]
o Short range missions (<400 mi): 8,000 lb (3,600 kg)
o Long range missions (≈800 mi): 4,500 lb (2,000 kg)

this is b-17 my grandfathers Crewed
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The Northrop P-61 Black Widow was an American all-metal, twin-engine, twin-boom, monoplane night fighter and night intruder aircraft flown by the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. It was the only Allied purpose-built aircraft to serve as a radar-equipped night fighter.

Design and development
YP-61-NO 41-11887777 pre-production prototype
YP-61-NO 41-118877
pre-production prototype

In August 1940, a full 16 months before the United States entered the war, the U.S. Air Officer in London, Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, was briefed on British research in RADAR (Radio Detection and Ranging), which had been underway since 1936 and had played an important role in the nation's defense against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. General Emmons was informed of the new Airborne Intercept radar (AI for short), a self-contained unit that could be installed in an aircraft and allow it to operate independently of ground stations. In September 1940 the Tizard Mission traded British research on many aspects including radar for American production.

Simultaneously, the British Purchasing Commission evaluating US aircraft declared their urgent need for a high-altitude, high-speed aircraft to intercept the Luftwaffe bombers attacking London at night. The aircraft would need to patrol continuously over the city throughout the night, requiring at least an eight-hour loiter capability. The aircraft would carry one of the early (and heavy) AI radar units, and mount its specified armament in "multiple-gun turrets". The British conveyed the requirements for a new fighter to all the aircraft designers and manufacturers they were working with. Jack Northrop was among them, and he realized that the speed, altitude, fuel load and multiple-turret requirements demanded a large aircraft with multiple engines.

Gen. Emmons returned to the U.S. with details of the British night-fighter requirements, and in his report said that US aircraft design bureaus possibly could produce such an aircraft. The Emmons Board developed basic requirements and specifications, handing them over towards the end of 1940 to Air Technical Service Command, Wright Field. After considering the two biggest challenges—the high weight of the AI radar and the very long (by fighter standards) loiter time of eight hours minimum—the board, like Jack Northrop, realized the aircraft would need the considerable power and resulting size of twin engines, and recommended such parameters.

Vladimir H. Pavlecka, Northrop Chief of Research, was present on unrelated business at Wright Field. On 21 October 1940, Col. Laurence Craigie of the ATSC phoned Pavlecka, explaining the USAAC's specifications, but told him to "not take any notes, 'Just try and keep this in your memory!' "[2] What Pavlecka did not learn was radar's part in the aircraft; Craigie described the then super-secret radar as a "device which would locate enemy aircraft in the dark" and which had the capability to "see and distinguish other airplanes". The mission, Craigie explained, was "the interception and destruction of hostile aircraft in flight during periods of darkness or under conditions of poor visibility."

Pavlecka met with Jack Northrop the next day, and gave him the USAAC specification. Northrop compared his notes with those of Pavlecka, saw the similarity between the USAAC's requirements and those issued by the RAF, and pulled out the work he had been doing on the British aircraft's requirements. He was already a month along, and a week later, Northrop pounced on the USAAC proposal.

On November 5, Northrop and Pavlecka met at Wright Field with Air Material Command officers and presented them with Northrop’s preliminary design. Douglas’ XA-26A night fighter proposal was the only competition, but Northrop’s design was selected and the Black Widow was conceived.

[edit] Early stages

Following the USAAC acceptance, Northrop began comprehensive design work on the aircraft to become the first to design a dedicated night fighter. The result was the largest and one of the most deadly pursuit-class aircraft flown by the U.S. during the war.

Jack Northrop's first proposal was a long fuselage gondola between two engine nacelles and tail booms. Engines were Pratt & Whitney R2800-10 Double Wasp 18-cylinder radials, producing 2,000 horsepower (1,500 kW) each. The fuselage housed the three-man crew, the radar, and two four-gun turrets. The .50 cal (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns were fitted with 36-inch long "aircraft" barrels with perforated sleeves. The turrets were located in the nose and rear of the fuselage. It stood on tricycle landing gear and featured full-span retractable flaps, or "Zap flaps" (named after Northrop engineer Edward Zap) in the wings.

The aircraft was huge, as Northrop had anticipated. While far heavier and larger multi-engine bombers existed, its 45.5-foot (14 m) length, 66-foot (20 m) wingspan and projected 22,600-pound (10,251 kg) full-load weight were unheard of for a fighter, making the P-61 hard for many to accept as a feasible combat aircraft.

[edit] Changes to the plan
The P-61's upper turret is visible on the fuselage between the wings.
The P-61's upper turret is visible on the fuselage between the wings.

Some alternative design features were investigated before finalization. Among them were conversion to a single vertical stabilizer/rudder and the shifting of the nose and tail gun turrets to the top and bottom of the fuselage along with the incorporation of a second gunner.

Late in November 1940, Jack Northrop returned to the crew of three and twin tail/rudder assembly. To meet USAAC's request for more firepower, designers abandoned the ventral turret and mounted four 20 mm Hispano M2 cannons in the wings. As the design evolved, the cannons were subsequently repositioned in the belly of the airplane. The P-61 therefore became one of the few U.S.-designed fighter aircraft to have 20 mm cannons as factory-standard in WWII. Others were the P-38 Lightning, the F4U-1C (a limited-production Corsair sub-variant), and the A-36 Apache dive-bomber (an early form of the P-51 Mustang). While some F6F Hellcats and repossessed British lend-lease P-39 Airacobras (renamed P-400) were also fitted with 20 mm cannons, it was not standard practice.

Northrop Specification 8A was formally submitted to Army Air Material Command at Wright Field, on December 5, 1940. Following a few small changes, Northrop's NS-8A fulfilled all USAAC requirements, and the Air Corps issued Northrop a Letter of Authority For Purchase on December 17. A contract for two prototypes and two scale models to be used for wind tunnel testing, (costs not to exceed $1,367,000), was awarded on 10 January 1941. Northrop Specification 8A became, by designation of the Department of Defense, the XP-61.

[edit] Technical description

The P-61 featured a crew of three: pilot, gunner, and radar operator. It was armed with four 20 mm Hispano M2 forward firing cannons mounted in the lower fuselage, and four Browning M2 .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns lined up horizontally with the two middle guns slightly offset upwards in a remotely-aimed dorsally mounted turret. The turret was driven by the General Electric GE2CFR12A3 gyroscopic fire control computer, and could be directed by either the gunner or radar operator, who both had the aiming control and gyroscopic collimator sight assembly posts attached to their swiveling seats.

The two Pratt & Whitney R2800-25S Double Wasp radial engines were each mounted approximately one-sixth out on the wing's span. Two-stage, two-speed mechanical superchargers were fitted. In an effort to save space and weight, no turbo-superchargers were fitted, despite the expected 50 mph (80 km/h) top speed and 10,000 ft operational ceiling increases.

Main landing gear bays were located at the bottom of each nacelle, directly behind the engine. The two main gear legs were each offset significantly towards outboard in their nacelles, and retracted towards the tail; oleo scissors faced forwards. Each main wheel was inboard of its gear leg and oleo. Main gear doors were two pieces, split evenly, longitudinally, hinged at inner door's inboard edge and the outer door's outboard edge.

Each engine cowling and nacelle drew back into tail booms that terminated upwards in large vertical stabilizers and their component rudders, each of a shape similar to a rounded right triangle. The leading edge of each vertical stabilizer was faired smoothly from the surface of the tail boom upwards, swept back to 37 degrees. The horizontal stabilizer extended between the inner surfaces of the two vertical stabilizers, and was approximately three-quarters the chord of the wing root, including the elevator. The elevator spanned approximately one third of the horizontal stabilizer's width, and in overhead plan view, angled inwards in the horizontal from both corners of leading edge towards the trailing edge approximately 15 degrees, forming the elevator into a wide, short trapezoid. The horizontal stabilizer and elevator assembly possessed a slight airfoil cross-section.

The engines and nacelles were outboard of the wing root and a short "shoulder" section of the wing that possessed a four-degree dihedral, and were followed by the remainder of the wing which had a dihedral of two degrees. The leading edge of the wing was straight and perpendicular to the aircraft's centerline. The trailing edge was straight and parallel to the leading edge in the shoulder, and tapered forward 15 degrees outboard of the nacelle. Leading edge updraft carburetor intakes were present on the wing shoulder and the root of the outer wing, with a few inches of separation from the engine nacelle itself. They were very similar in appearance to those on the F4U Corsair—thin horizontal rectangles with the ends rounded out to nearly a half-circle, with multiple vertical vanes inside to direct the airstream properly.

The P-61 did not have ailerons. Aside from the full-span retractable "Zap flaps", all control of the aircraft about the roll axis was maintained through the use of curved, tapered spoilerons, of approximately 10 feet in length and 6 inches in width (in overhead plan view) each. They were located outboard of the outer edge of each nacelle in overhead plan view, approximately one-quarter the length of the outer wing (the section of wing outboard of the edge of each nacelle furthest from the aircraft's centerline) and offset towards the wing leading edge approximately one third the wing's chord from the trailing edge, running towards the wing-tip approximately half the length of the outer wing. Operation was as follows: the spoileron in the inside wing rotated out of the wing's upper surface into the airstream, disrupting the effect of Bernoulli's principle and reducing lift over that wing, causing it to drop.

The main fuselage, or gondola, was centered on the aircraft's centerline. It was, from the tip of the nose to the end of the Plexiglas tail-cone, approximately five-sixths the length of one wing (root to tip). The nose housed an evolved form of the SCR-268 Signal Corps Radar, the Western Electric Company's SCR-720A. Immediately behind the radar was the forward crew compartment, seating the pilot and behind him the gunner, the latter elevated approximately six inches. The multi-framed "greenhouse" canopy featured two distinct levels, one for the pilot and a second for the gunner above and behind him. Combined with the nearly flat upper surface of the aircraft's nose, the two-tiered canopy gave the aircraft's nose a distinct appearance of three wide, shallow steps. The forward canopy in the XP-61 featured contiguous, smooth-curved, blown-Plexiglas canopy sections facing forward, in front of the pilot and the gunner. The tops and sides were framed.

Beneath the forward crew compartment was the nose gear wheel well, through which the pilot and gunner entered and exited the aircraft. The forward gear leg retracted to the rear, up against a contoured cover that when closed for flight formed part of the cockpit floor; the gear would not have space to retract with it open. The oleo scissor faced forwards. The nosewheel was centered, with the strut forking to the aircraft's left. The nosewheel was approximately three-fourths the diameter of the main wheels. Nose gear doors were two pieces, split evenly longitudinally, and hinged at each outboard edge.

The center of the gondola housed the main wing spar, fuel storage, fuel piping and control mechanisms, control surface cable sections, propeller and engine controls, and radio/IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) /communications equipment, but was predominantly occupied by the top turret mounting ring, rotation and elevation mechanisms, ammunition storage for the turret's four Browning M2 machine guns, the GE2CFR12A3 gyroscopic fire control computer, and linkages to the gunner and radar operator's turret control columns, forward and aft, respectively.

The radar operator's station was at the aft of the gondola. The radar operator controlled the SRC-720 radar set and viewed its display scopes from the isolated rear compartment, which he entered by way of a small hatch with a built-in ladder on the underside of the aircraft. In addition to the radar systems themselves, the radar operator had intercom and radio controls, as well as the controls and sight for the remote turret. The compartment's canopy followed the curvature of the gondola's rear section, with only a single rounded step to the forwards canopy's double step. The rear of the gondola was enclosed by a blown Plexiglas cap that tapered quickly in overhead plan view to a barely-rounded point; the shape was somewhat taller in side profile than it was in overhead plan view, giving the end of the "cone", a rounded "blade" appearance when viewed in perspective.

The cross-section of the gondola, front to back, was generally rectangular, vertically oriented. The tip of the nose was very rounded, merging quickly to a rectangular cross-section that tapered slightly towards the bottom. This cross-section lost its taper but became clearly rounded at the bottom moving back through the forward crew compartment and nose gear well. Height increased at both steps in the forward canopy, with the second step being flush with the top of the aircraft (not counting the spinal gun turret). At the rear of the forward crew compartment, the cross-section's bottom bulged downwards considerably and continued to do so until just past the midpoint between the rear of the forward crew compartment and the front of the rear crew compartment, where the lower curvature began to recede. Beginning at the front of the rear crew compartment, the top of the cross-section began to taper increasingly inwards above the aircraft's center of gravity when progressing towards the rear of the gondola. The cross-section rounded out considerably by the downward step in the rear canopy, and rapidly became a straight-sided oval, shrinking and terminating in the tip of the blown-Plexiglas "cone" described above.

The cross-section of the nacelles was essentially circular throughout, growing then diminishing in size when moving from the engine cowlings past the wing and gear bay, towards the tail booms and the vertical stabilizers. A bulge on the top of the wing maintained the circular cross-section as the nacelles intersected the wing. The cross-section became slightly egg-shaped around the main gear bays, larger at the bottom but still round. An oblong bulge on the bottom of the main gear doors, oriented longitudinally, accommodated the main wheels when the gear was retracted.

Wing tips, wing-to-nacelle joints, tips and edge of stabilizers and control surfaces (excluding the horizontal stabilizer and elevator) were all smoothly rounded, blended or filleted. The overall design was exceptionally clean and fluid as the aircraft possessed very few sharp corners or edges.

[edit] XP-61 development

In March 1941, the Army/Navy Standardization Committee decided to standardize use of updraft carburetors across all U.S. military branches. The XP-61, designed with downdraft carburetors, faced an estimated minimum two-month redesign of the engine nacelle to bring the design into compliance. The committee later reversed the updraft carburetor standardization decision (the XP-61 program's predicament likely having little influence), preventing a potential setback in the XP-61's development.

The Air Corps Mockup Board met at Northrop on 2 April 1941, to inspect the XP-61 mockup. They recommended several changes following this review. Most prominently, the four 20-millimeter Hispano M2 cannon were relocated from the outer wings to the belly of the aircraft, clustered tightly just behind the rear of the nose gear well. The closely spaced, centered installation, with two cannons stacked vertically, slightly outboard of the aircraft's centerline on each side, and the top cannon in each pair only a few inches farther outboard, eliminated the inherent drawbacks of convergence.

Convergence was a necessity in wing-mounted guns. Convergence is the specific point or points of range and elevation at which arming crews calibrate the weapons' projectile paths to intersect the aircraft's centerline, preventing a "safe zone" in front of the aircraft through which no projectiles would pass if wing guns were set to fire straight ahead. Projectiles fired at a target beyond the point of convergence crisscross before reaching the target and miss wide; projectiles fired at a target closer than the point of convergence either pass on either side or fail to impact at a concentrated point, minimizing the damage inflicted. In practice, both cases limit the cannons' effective ranges to a very small zone on either side of a set distance, and create additional challenges when calculating deflection ("pulling lead") for a moving target.

Without convergence, aiming was considerably easier and faster, and the tightly grouped cannons created a thick stream of 20 mm projectiles. The removal of the guns and ammunition from the wings also cleaned up the wings' airfoil and increased internal fuel capacity from 540 to 646 gallons.

Other changes included the provision for external fuel carriage in drop tanks, flame arrestors/dampeners on engine exhausts, and redistribution of some radio equipment. While all beneficial from a performance standpoint—especially the movement of the cannons—the modifications required over a month of redesign work, and the XP-61 was already behind schedule.

In mid-1941, the dorsal turret mount finally proved too difficult to install in the aircraft, and was changed from the General Electric ring mount to a pedestal mount like that used for the upper turrets in B-17s, B-24s, B-25s, A-20s and other bombers. Following this modification, the turret itself became unavailable, as operational aircraft—in this case, the B-29—were ahead of experimental aircraft in line for the high-demand component. For flight testing, engineers used a dummy turret.

During February 1942, subcontracting manufacturer Curtiss notified Northrop that the C5424-A10 four-bladed, automatic, full-feathering propeller Northrop had planned for use in the XP-61 would not be ready for the prototype rollout or the beginning of flight tests. Hamilton Standard propellers were used in lieu of the Curtiss props until the originally planned component became available.

The XP-61's weight rose during construction of the prototype, to 22,392 lb empty and 29,673 lb at takeoff. Engines were R-2900-25S Double Wasp radials; turning 12-foot, 2-inch diameter Curtiss C5425-A10 four-blade propellers, both rotating clockwise when viewed from the front. Radios included two command radios, SCR-522As, and three other radio sets, the SCR-695A, AN/APG-1, and AN/APG-2. Central fire control for the gun turret was similar to that used on the B-29, the General Electric GE2CFR12A3.

[edit] SCR-720 radar
A P-61 radar
A P-61 radar

The production model of the SCR-720A mounted a scanning radio transmitter in the aircraft nose; in Airborne Intercept mode, it had a range of nearly five miles. The unit could also function as an airborne beacon / homing device, navigational aid, or in concert with interrogator-responder IFF units. The XP-61's radar operator located targets on his scope and steered the unit to track them, vectoring and steering the pilot to the radar target via oral instruction and correction. Once within range, the pilot used a smaller scope integrated into the main instrument panel to track and close on the target.

[edit] Remote turret

The XP-61's spine-mounted dorsal remote turret could be aimed and fired by any one of the three-man crew, or could be locked forward to be fired by the pilot in addition to the 20 mm cannons. The radar operator could rotate the turret to face to the rear, in order to engage targets behind the aircraft. Capable of a full 360 degrees rotation and 90 degrees elevation, the turret could conceivably be used to engage any target in the entire hemisphere above and to the sides of the XP-61.

[edit] P-61C

The P-61C was a high-performance variant designed to rectify some of the combat deficiencies encountered with the A and B variants. Work on the P-61C proceeded quite slowly at Northrop because of the higher priority of the XB-35 flying wing project. In fact, much of the work on the P-61C was farmed out to Goodyear, which had been a subcontractor for production of Black Widow components. It was not until early 1945 that the first production P-61C-1-NO rolled off the production lines. As promised, the performance was substantially improved in spite of a 2,000 pound increase in empty weight. Maximum speed was 430 mph (690 km/h) at 30,000 feet (9,000 m), service ceiling was 41,000 feet (12,500 m), and an altitude of 30,000 feet (9,000 m) could be attained in 14.6 minutes.
XF-15A-NO 43-8335Prototype unarmed photo recon
XF-15A-NO 43-8335
Prototype unarmed photo recon

The P-61C was equipped with perforated fighter airbrakes located both below and above the wing surfaces. These were to provide a means of preventing the pilot from overshooting his target during an intercept. For added fuel capacity, the P-61C was equipped with four underwing pylons (two inboard of the nacelles, two outboard) which could carry four 310-gallon drop tanks. The first P-61C aircraft was accepted by the USAAF in July of 1945. However, the war in the Pacific ended before any P-61Cs could see combat. The forty-first and last P-61C-1-NO was accepted on January 28, 1946. At least 13 more were completed by Northrop but were scrapped before they could be delivered to the USAAF.

The service life of the P-61C was quite brief, since it was being quickly outclassed by jet aircraft. Most were used for test and research purposes. By the end of March 1949, most P-61Cs had been scrapped. Two entered the civilian market and two others went to museums.

[edit] F-15 / RF-61C

In mid-1945, the surviving XP-61E was modified as an unarmed photographic reconnaissance aircraft. All the guns were removed, and a new nose was fitted, capable of holding an assortment of aerial cameras. The aircraft, redesignated XF-15, flew for the first time on 3 July 1945. A P-61C-1-NO (serial number 42-8335) was also modified to XF-15 standards. Apart from the turbosupercharged R-2800-C engines, it was identical to the XF-15 and flew for the first time on 17 October 1945. The nose for the F-15A-1-NO was subcontracted to the Hughes Tool Company of Culver City, California. The F-15A was basically the P-61C with the new bubble-canopy fuselage and the camera-carrying nose, but without the fighter brakes on the wing.
F-15A-1NO 45-59303
F-15A-1NO 45-59303

The first production F-15A-1-NO was accepted in September 1946. However, the contract was abruptly cancelled in 1947, possibly because the performance of the aircraft (known as the "Reporter") was rapidly being overshadowed by jets, with the last of only 36 examples being accepted by the USAAF in April that year. The last F-15 to be produced (serial number 45-59335) was produced as an F-15A-5-NO, which differed from the Block-1 version mainly in having a new internal camera installation in the nose. It seems that this change had been contemplated for the last 20 F-15s as well, since some records indicate that these were all eventually redesignated as F-15A-5-NO.

The pilot was seated in the front, with the reconnaissance operator in the back. The backseat occupant controlled the cameras and navigated the aircraft. However, the rear seat of the F-15A was fitted with a set of rudimentary flying controls, which made it possible for the reconnaissance operator to relieve the pilot if needed. Both crew members were rated pilots and both were trained in the reconnaissance task, so they usually alternated position on each flight.

Of the 36 F-15As produced, nine were allocated to the Air Materiel Command in the Continental U.S., and the remainder were issued to just one squadron, the 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron attached to the 35th Fighter Group in Japan. These aircraft served in the American occupation of Japan, and several of them participated in the Post-Hostilities Mapping Program, in which the beaches, villages, road networks, and cultural centers were extensively photographed. Included in this job was the mapping of the Korean Peninsula, which proved invaluable when the Korean War broke out in 1950. A few also served in the Philippines and Celebes. Included in their mission was the mapping of the route of the Bataan Death March for war crimes prosecutions.

Spare parts became a problem for the F-15s in the late 1940s, and both damaged and flyable Reporters were cannibalized to keep the rest of them flying. In 1948, the separate F-category for reconnaissance aircraft was eliminated, and the P-for-pursuit category was replaced by F-for-fighter. Surviving Black Widows were redesignated F-61, and the surviving Reporters were redesignated RF-61C (since they were basically modified P-61Cs). On 1 April 1949, the only outfit still using RF-61Cs (the 82nd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron) was deactivated, and all surviving RF-61Cs were reassigned to the 35th Maintenance Squadron at Johnson AFB for disposal. Some were disposed of as surplus on the commercial market, while others were scrapped.

[edit] F2T-1N

The United States Marine Corps had planned to acquire 75 Black Widows, but these were cancelled in 1944 in favor of the F7F Tigercat. In September 1945, however, the Marines received a dozen surplus P-61B-10 / 15 / 20 to serve as radar trainers until the F7F-3Ns would be available in squadron strength.[3] Designated F2T-1N and given the build numbers 52750–52761,[4] these aircraft were assigned to shore-based Marine units and served briefly – the last 2 F2T-1s being stricken on 30 August 1947.

[edit] Operational history

[edit] World War II service
P-61A-10NO 42-5569 "Tabitha" 425th NFS (RAF Scorton, England)
P-61A-10NO 42-5569 "Tabitha"
425th NFS (RAF Scorton, England)

The 6th NFS based on Guadalcanal received their first P-61s in early June, 1944. The aircraft were quickly assembled and underwent flight testing as the pilots transitioned from the squadron's aging P-70s. The first operational P-61 mission occurred on June 25, and the type scored its first kill on June 30, 1944 when a Japanese Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bomber was shot down.

[edit] Crew training and competition from the Mosquito

P-61 crews trained in a variety of ways. Several existing night fighter squadrons operating in the Mediterranean and Pacific theatres were to transition directly into the P-61 from Bristol Beaufighters and Douglas P-70s, though most P-61 crews were to be made up of new recruits operating in newly commissioned squadrons. After receiving flight, gunnery or radar training in bases around the U.S., the crews were finally assembled and received their P-61 operational training in Florida for transfer to the European Theatre, or California for operations in the Pacific Theatre.

The 422nd Night Fighter Squadron was the first to complete their training in Florida and, in February 1944, the squadron was shipped to England aboard the Mauritania. The 425th NFS was soon to follow aboard the Queen Elizabeth.

The situation deteriorated in May 1944 when the squadrons learned that several USAAF Generals believed the P-61 was too slow to effectively engage in combat with German fighters and medium bombers. The RAF shared this view, based on the performance of a single P-61 they had received in early May, and championed switching to their de Havilland Mosquito Mk XVI. Several pilots in the 422nd NFS threatened to turn in their wings if they weren't permitted to fly the "Black Widow". At the end of May, the USAAF insisted on a competition between the Mosquito and the P-61 for operation in the European Theatre. RAF crews flew the Mosquito Mk XVI while crews from the 422nd NFS flew the P-61. In the end the USAAF determined that the P-61 had a slightly better rate of climb, and could turn tighter than the Mosquito. The RAF disputed these claims and continued to push for the use of the Mosquito, but to no avail. In later tests conducted by the manufacturers, the two aircraft were actually found to be very similar in performance with no clear advantage for either aircraft.[5]

In England, the 422nd NFS finally received their first P-61s in late June, and began flying operational missions over England in mid-July. These aircraft arrived without the dorsal turrets so the squadron's gunners were reassigned to another NFS that was to continue flying the P-70. The first P-61 engagement in the European Theatre occurred on July 15 when a P-61 piloted by Lt. Herman Ernst was directed to intercept a V-1 "Buzz Bomb". Diving from above and behind to match the V-1's 350 mph (560 km/h) speed, the P-61's plastic rear cone imploded under the pressure and the attack was aborted. The tail cones would fail on several early P-61A models before this problem was corrected. On 16 July, Lt. Ernst was again directed to attack a V-1 and, this time, was successful, giving the 422nd NFS and the European Theatre its first P-61 kill.

Throughout the summer of 1944, P-61s operating in the Pacific Theatre would see sporadic action against Japanese aircraft. Most missions ended with no enemy aircraft sighted, but when the enemy was detected they were often in groups, with the attack resulting in multiple kills for that pilot and radar operator, who would jointly receive credit for the kill. Since pilots and radar operators did not always fly as a team, the kills of the pilot and radar operator were often different. On some occasions a pilot with only one or two kills would fly with a radar operator who was already an "ace".

In early August 1944, the 422nd NFS transferred to Maupertus, France, and began meeting piloted German aircraft for the first time. A Bf 110 was shot down, and shortly afterwards, the squadron's commanding officer Lt. Colonel O. B. Johnson, his P-61 already damaged by flak, shot down a Fw 190. The 425th NFS scored its first kill shortly afterwards.

In October 1944, a P-61 of the 422nd NFS, now operating out of an abandoned Luftwaffe airfield in Florennes, Belgium, encountered a Messerschmitt Me 163 attempting to land. The P-61 tried to intercept it but the rocket plane was traveling too fast. A week later, another P-61 spotted a Me 262, but was also unable to intercept the jet. On yet another occasion, a 422nd P-61 spotted a Me 410 Hornisse flying at tree top level but, as they dove on it, the "Hornet" sped away and the P-61 was unable to catch it. Contrary to popular stories, no P-61 ever engaged in combat with a German jet or any of the late war advanced Luftwaffe aircraft. The most commonly encountered and destroyed Luftwaffe aircraft types were Junkers Ju 188s, Bf 110s, Fw 190s, Dornier Do 217s and Heinkel He 111s, while P-61 losses were limited to numerous landing accidents, bad weather, friendly fire and flak. Apart from an attack on a Bf 110 that turned against them, there were no reports of a P-61 being damaged by a German aircraft; and apart from one accidentally shot down by an RAF Mosquito, none were confirmed to be destroyed in aerial combat.

The absence of turrets and gunners in most European theater P-61s presented several unique challenges. The 422nd NFS kept its radar operator in the rear compartment, meaning the pilot had no visual contact with the R/O. As a result, several courageous pilots continued flying their critically damaged P-61s under the mistaken belief that their R/O was injured and unconscious, when in fact the R/O had already bailed out. The 425th NFS had a more novel solution: they moved the R/O to the former gunner's position behind the pilot. This gave the pilot an extra set of eyes up front, and moved the aircraft's center of gravity about 15 inches forward, changing the flight characteristics from slightly nose up to slightly nose down which also improved the P-61's overall performance.

By December 1944, P-61s of the 422nd and 425th NFS were helping to repel the German offensive know as the "Battle of the Bulge," with two flying cover over the town of Bastogne. Pilots of the 422nd and 425th NFS switched their tactics from night fighting to daylight ground attack, strafing German supply lines and railroads. The P-61's four 20 mm cannons proved highly effective in destroying large numbers of German locomotives and trucks.

By early 1945, German aircraft were rarely seen and most P-61 night kills were Ju 52s attempting to evacuate Nazi officers under the cover of darkness.

The 422nd NFS produced three ace pilots, while the 425th NFS claimed none. Lt. Cletus "Tommy" Ormsby of the 425th NFS was officially credited with three victories. Unfortunately Lt. Ormsby was killed by friendly fire moments after attacking a Ju 87 on the night of March 24, 1945; however, his radar operator escaped with serious injuries and was saved by German doctors.

In the Pacific Theater in 1945, P-61 squadrons struggled to find targets. One squadron succeeded in destroying a large number of Kawasaki Ki-48 Lily Japanese Army Air Force twin-engined bombers, another shot down several G4M Bettys, while another pilot destroyed two Japanese Navy Nakajima J1N1 Irving twin-engined fighters in one engagement; but most missions ended with no enemy aircraft sighted. Several Pacific Theater squadrons finished the war with no confirmed kills at all. The 550th could only claim a crippled B-29 Superfortress, shot down after the crew had bailed out having left the plane on autopilot.

It is widely believed that the last two enemy aircraft destroyed before the Japanese surrender were both downed by a P-61 of the 548th NFS. This aircraft, known as "Lady in the Dark" was piloted by Lt. Lee Kendall, gaining its victories over a Nakajima Ki-43 on the night of 14 August/15 August 1945, and a Ki-44 on the next night.[6] However, this is incorrect; these were the last aircraft destroyed by "any" USAAF fighter; the last Japanese aircraft destroyed in World War II were by a Convair B-32, "Hobo Queen Two," which destroyed two A6M Zeros on 18 August 1945.

On January 30, 1945 a lone P-61 performed a vital mission that was instrumental in the successful effort of the U.S. Rangers to free over 500 Allied POWs held by the Japanese at the Cabanatuan prison camp in the Philippines. As the Rangers crept up on the camp, a P-61 swooped low and performed aerobatic maneuvers for several minutes. The distraction of the guards allowed the Rangers to position themselves, undetected, within striking range of the camp. The story of the rescue and the role of the P-61 is told in the book Ghost Soldiers (by Hampton Sides) and in The Great Raid, a movie based upon the book.

In the Mediterranean Theater, most night fighter squadrons transitioned from their aging Bristol Beaufighters into P-61s too late to achieve any kills in the "Black Widow".

Though the P-61 proved itself very capable against the majority of German aircraft it encountered, it was clearly outclassed by the new aircraft arriving in the last months of World War II. It also lacked external fuel tanks that would have extended its range and saved many doomed crews looking for a landing site in darkness and bad weather. External bomb loads would also have made the type more adaptable to the ground attack role it soon took on in Europe. These problems were all addressed eventually, but too late to have the impact they might have had earlier in the war. The P-61 proved very capable against all Japanese aircraft it encountered, but saw too few of them to make a significant difference in the Pacific war effort.[5]

[edit] Postwar military service

The useful life of the Black Widow was extended for a few years into the immediate postwar period due to the USAAF's problems in developing a useful jet-powered night/all-weather fighter. The Curtiss P-87 had initially been scheduled as the jet-powered replacement for the Black Widow, but the failure of the XP-87 project meant the Black Widow had to soldier on for another few years. Replacement of the Black Widow by F-82F/G Twin Mustang night fighters began in early 1948, but by early 1950, most Black Widows were out of operational service. The last operational Black Widow left Japan in May 1950, missing the Korean War by only a month, while the last operational F-61 was retired in 1952.

[edit] Ejector seat experiments

A Black Widow participated in early American ejector seat experiments performed shortly after the war. The Germans had pioneered the development of ejector seats early in the war, the first-ever emergency use of an ejector seat having been made on 14 January 1942 by a Luftwaffe test pilot when he escaped from a disabled Heinkel He 280 V1. American interest in ejector seats during the war was largely a side-issue of the developmental work done on pusher aircraft such as the Vultee XP-54, the goal being to give the pilot at least some slim chance of clearing the tail assembly and the propeller of the aircraft in the case of an emergency escape, but little progress had been made since pusher aircraft development had never really gotten past the drawing board or the initial prototype stage. However, the development of high-speed jet-powered aircraft made the development of practical ejector seats mandatory.

Initially, an ejector seat was "borrowed" from a captured German Heinkel He 162 and was installed in a Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star in August 1945. However, it was decided that the single-seat P-80 would not be suitable for these tests, and it was decided to switch to a three-seat Black Widow. A P-61B-5-NO (serial number 42-39489) was modified for the tests, the ejector seat being fitted in the forward gunner's compartment. The aircraft was redesignated XP-61B for these tests (there having been no XP-61B prototype for the initial P-61B series). A dummy was used in the initial ejection tests, but on 17 April 1946, a volunteer, Sgt. Lawrence Lambert was successfully ejected from the P-61B at a speed of 302 mph (486 km/h) at 7,800 feet (2,380 m).[7] With the concept having been proven feasible, newer jet-powered aircraft were brought into the program, and the XP-61B was reconverted to standard P-61B configuration.

[edit] Thunderstorm project
A P-61 squadron involved in the Ohio phase of the Thunderstorm Project, 1947.
A P-61 squadron involved in the Ohio phase of the Thunderstorm Project, 1947.

The P-61 was heavily involved in the Thunderstorm Project (1946–1949) that was a landmark program dedicated to gathering data on thunderstorm activity. The project was a cooperative undertaking on the part of four U.S. government agencies: the U.S. Weather Bureau and NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, later to become NASA), assisted by the U.S. Army Air Force and Navy. Scientists from several universities also participated in the initiation, design and conduct of the project. The project's goal was to learn more about thunderstorms and to use this knowledge to better protect civil and military airplanes that operated in their vicinity. The P-61's radar and particular flight characteristics enabled it to find and penetrate the most turbulent regions of a storm, and return crew and instruments intact for detailed study.

The Florida phase of the project in 1946 continued into a second phase carried out in Ohio during the summer of 1947. Results derived from this pioneering field study formed the basis of the scientific understanding of thunderstorms, and much of what was learned has been changed little by subsequent observations and theories. Data was collected for the first time from systematic radar and aircraft penetration of thunderstorms, forming the basis of many published studies that are still frequently referenced by mesoscale and thunderstorm researchers.

[edit] Naval tests

P-61B-1NO serial number 42-39458 was operated by the Navy at the Patuxent River test facility in Maryland in a number of tests. P-61A-10NO serial number 42-39395 was subjected by the Navy to a series of test catapult launches to qualify the aircraft for shipboard launches, but the Black Widow was never flown from an aircraft carrier. These aircraft did not receive the naval designation F2T-1 but continued on as P-61.

Shortly after the war, the Navy borrowed two P-61Cs (43-8336 and 43-8347) from the USAAF and used them for air-launches of the experimental Martin PTV-N-2U Gorgon IV ramjet-powered missile, the first launch taking place on 14 November 1947. While carrying a Gorgon under each wing, the P-61C would go into a slight dive during launch to reach the speed necessary for ramjet operation to be initiated. These two naval Black Widows were returned to the USAF in 1948, and transferred to the boneyard shortly afterwards.

[edit] Civilian use

Surviving aircraft were offered to civilian governmental agencies, or declared surplus and offered for sale on the commercial market.

An RF-61C (ex-F-15A, serial number 45-59300) was used by NACA at Moffett Field in California to test some early swept-wing designs by dropping recoverable aerodynamic test bodies from high altitude. This program was later joined by F-61C serial number 43-8330, borrowed from the Smithsonian Institution for the duration of the tests. These drops were carried out over Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert in California. F-61B-15NO serial number 42-39754 was used by NACA's Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio for tests of airfoil-type ramjets. F-61C-1NO 43-8357 was used at Ames as a source for spare parts for other F/RF-61 aircraft.

A few other Black Widows also ended up in the civilian market. P-61B-1NO serial number 42-39419 had been bailed to Northrop during most of its military career, who then bought the aircraft from the government at the end of the war. Having the civilian registration number NX30020 assigned to it, it was used as an executive transport, as a flight-test chase plane, and for tests with advanced navigational equipment. Later it was purchased by the Jack Ammann Photogrammetric Engineers, a photo-mapping company based in Texas; then in 1963, it was sold to an aerial tanker company and used for fighting forest fires. However, it crashed while fighting a fire on 23 August 1963, killing its pilot.

The last flying examples of the P-61 line were an F-15A Reporter (RF-61C) 45-59300 and the "spare parts" F-61C 43-8357. The latter was rebuilt as a high-altitude mapping plane, assigned the civilian number N5094V, and offered on the commercial market; however, it attracted no customers and was finally scrapped in 1957. The RF-61C, originally given the civilian registration N5093V, was sold to Compania Mexicana Aerofoto S. A. of Mexico and assigned the Mexican registration XB-FUJ. It was then bought by Aero Enterprises Inc. of California and returned to the USA in 1964 carrying the civilian registration number N9768Z. The fuselage tank and turbosupercharger intercoolers were removed; and fitted with a 1600-gallon chemical tank for fire-fighting it was purchased by Cal-Nat at the end of 1964, and in turn in March 1968 by TBM, Inc., an aerial firefighting company located in California (the name of the company standing for the TBM Avenger, the company's primary equipment). It was destroyed in a takeoff accident on 16 September 1968.

[edit] Variants
Designation Changes from previous model
XP-61 The first two prototypes.
YP-61 Pre-production series; 13 built.
P-61A-1 First production version, R-2800-10 engines with 2,000 hp (1,490 kW); 45 built. The last seven aircraft were built without the turret.
P-61A-5 No turret, R-2800-65 engines producing 2,250 hp (1,680 kW), 35 built.
P-61A-10 Water injection to increase duration of maximum power output; 100 built.
P-61A-11 One hardpoint under each wing for bombs or fuel tanks; 20 built.
P-61B-1 Nose stretched 8 inches (20.3 cm), SCR-695 tail warning radar; 62 built.
P-61B-2 Reinstated underwing hardpoints like on P-61A-11; 38 built.
P-61B-10 Four underwing hardpoints; 46 built.
P-61B-11 Reinstated turret with two 0.50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns; five built.
P-61B-15 Turret with four 0.50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns; 153 built.
P-61B-16 Turret armament reduced to two machine guns; six built.
P-61B-20 New General Electric turret with four machine guns; 84 built.
P-61B-25 Turret automatically aimed and fired by the APG-1 gun-laying radar connected to an analogue computer; six built.
P-61C Turbosupercharged R-2800-73 engines producing 2,800 hp (2,090 kW), top speed increased to 374 knots (430 mph, 692 km/h) at 30,000 feet (9,145 m). However, the aircraft suffered from longitudinal instability at weights above 35,000 pounds (15,875 kg) and from excessive takeoff runs — up to three miles (4,830 m) at a 40,000 pound (18,143 kg) takeoff weight; 41 built, 476 more cancelled after the end of the war.
TP-61C P-61Cs converted to dual-control training aircraft.
XP-61D One P-61A-5 (number 42-5559) and one P-61A-10 (number 42-5587) fitted with turbosupercharged R-2800-14 engines, cancelled when P-61C entered production.
XP-61E Two P-61B-10s (numbers 42-49549 and 42-39557) converted to daytime long-range escort fighters. Tandem crew sat under a blown canopy which replaced the turret, additional fuel tanks were installed in place of the radar operator's cockpit in the rear of the fuselage pod, and four 0.50 cal machine guns took place of the radar in the nose (the 20 mm ventral cannon were retained as well). First flight 20 November 1944, cancelled after the war ended. The first prototype was converted to an XF-15, the second lost in an accident in 1945.
XP-61F One P-61C was to be converted XP-61E standard but conversion was abandoned.
P-61G Sixteen P-61B converted for meteorological research.
F-15A Reporter Photoreconnaissance variant with a new center pod with pilot and camera operator seated in tandem under a single bubble canopy, and six cameras taking place of radar in the nose. Powered by the same turbosupercharged R-2800-73 engines as the P-61C. The first prototype XF-15 was converted from the first XP-61E prototype, the second XF-15A was converted from a P-61C (number 43-8335). The aircraft had a takeoff weight of 32,145 pounds (14,580 kg) and a top speed of 382 knots (440 mph, 708 km/h). Only 36 of the 175 ordered F-15As were built before the end of the war. After formation of the United States Air Force in 1947, F-15A was redesignated RF-61C. F-15As were responsible for most of the aerial maps of North Korea used at the start of the Korean War[8]
F2T-1N 12 USAAF P-61B's transferred to the United States Marine Corps.

[edit] Operators


Flag of the United States United States

* United States Army Air Force

[edit] Pacific Theatre

* 6th Night Fighter Squadron (formerly the 6th Fighter Squadron)

Activated 18 January 1943, Kipapa Gulch, Hawaii. Assigned to 7th Air Force. Served in Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Saipan, Iwo Jima. Inactivated 20 February 1947 at Wheeler Field, Hawaii. Reactivated as 339th All Weather Squadron

* 418th Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 1 April 1943, Milne Bay, New Guinea. Assigned to 5th Air Force and served in New Guinea, Philippines. Inactivated 20 February 1947, San Jose, Mindoro, Philippines. Reactivated August 1948 as 4th All Weather Squadron.

* 419th Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 1 April 1943, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.Assigned: 13th AF - Served in New Guinea, Philippines. Inactivated 20 February 1947, Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines

* 421st Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 1 May 1943, Milne Bay, New Guinea.Assigned: 5th AF - Served in New Guinea, Philippines. Inactivated 20 February 1947 at Ie Shima, Ryukyu Islands. Reactivated August 1948 as 68th All Weather Squadron.

* 547th Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 1 March 1944, Oro Bay, New Guinea.Assigned: 5th AF - Served in New Guinea, Philippines, Ie Shima, Japan. Inactivated 20 February 1946, Ie Shima, Ryukyu Islands

* 548th Night Fighter Squadron

P-61C 42-8353 painted in the livery of 550th Squadron's Moonlight Serenade at the National Museum of the United States Air Force
P-61C 42-8353 painted in the livery of 550th Squadron's Moonlight Serenade at the National Museum of the United States Air Force

Activated 10 April 1944, Hickam Field, Hawaii. Assigned: 7th AF - Served in Saipan, Iwo Jima, Ie Shima, Japan. Inactivated 19 December 1945, Ie Shima, Ryukyu Islands.

* 549th Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 1 May 1944, Kipapa Gulch, Hawaii, Assigned: 7th AF - Served on Saipan, Iwo Jima. Inactivated 5 February 1946, Iwo Jima

* 550th Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 1 June 1944, Hollandia, New Guinea, Assigned to 13th Air Force - Served in New Guinea, Philippines. Inactivated on 4 January 1946, Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines

[edit] European Theatre

* 414th Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 26 January 1943, La Senia, Algeria. Assigned to 12th AF. Served in Algeria, Sardinia, Corsica, Italy, plus detachment to Belgium. Inactivated 31 August 1947 at Strossfield, Germany. Reformed as 319th All Weather Squadron.

* 415th Night Fighter Squadron
Assigned: 12th AF - Served in Italy, Corsica, France, Germany
o Activated 10 February 1943, La Senia, Algeria
o Inactivated 1 September 1947, Gross-Gerau, Germany
(became 449th Fighter Squadron)

* 416th Night Fighter Squadron
Assigned: 12th AF - Served in Italy, Corsica, France, Germany
o Activated June 1945
o Inactivated November 1946
(became 449th Fighter Squadron)

* 417th Night Fighter Squadron
Assigned: 12th AF - Served in United Kingdom, North Africa, Corsica, France, Germany
o Activated 20 February 1943, Orlando AB, FL
o Inactivated 9 November 1946, Schweinfurt, Germany

* 422d Night Fighter Squadron
Assigned: 9th AF - Served in England, France, Belgium, Germany
o Activated 1 August 1943, RAF Charmy Down, England
o Inactivated 30 September 1945, Langensalza, Germany

* 425th Night Fighter Squadron
Assigned: 9th AF - Served in England, France, and Germany
o Activated 1 December 1943, RAF Charmy Down, England
o Inactivated 25 August 1947, Furth, Germany

* 427th Night Fighter Squadron
Assigned: 12th AF - Served Italy
o Activated 1 February 1944, Pomigliano, Italy
o Transferred to Barrackpore, India
China-Burma-India Theatre, October 1944

[edit] China-Burma-India Theatre

* 426th Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 1 January 1944, Madhaigani, India. Assigned to 14th Air Force. Served in India, China to protect B-29 Superfortress bases from attack. Inactivated on 5 November 1945, Shwanglu, China.

* 427th Night Fighter Squadron

Transferred from Pomigliano, Italy in October 1944. Stationed at Barrackpore, India. Assigned to the 14th AF it served in India, Burma and China. Inactivated on 29 October 1945 at Kisselbari, India.

[edit] Postwar P-61 squadrons

Note: The P-61 (Pursuit) designation was changed to F-61 (Fighter) in June 1948.

* 2d Fighter Squadron (All-Weather). Formed from equipment and personnel of 416th Night Fighter Squadron in November 1946 at Schweinfurt Germany. Transferred to Mitchell Field, N.Y, June 1947. Transitioned to F-82 Twin Mustang at McGuire Field, NJ, in 1948.

* 4th All Weather Squadron. Formed from equipment and personnel of 418th Night Fighter Squadron in August 1948 at Naha Air Base, Okinawa. Exchanged its F-61s for F-82Gs in 1948.

* 5th Fighter Squadron (All-Weather). Formed at Schweinfurt Germany from equipment and personnel of 417th Night Fighter Squadron in November 1946 and made part of 52d Fighter Group. Returned to Mitchel Field, NY in June 1948, and transitioned to F-82 later that year at McGuire Field, N.J..

* 68th All Weather Squadron. Formed at Bofu AFB Japan from equipment and personnel of 421st Night Fighter Squadron in August 1948 and almost immediately transitioned to F-82.

* 317th Fighter Squadron. Operated with P-47s and P-51s in Europe, deactivating in October 1945 and reforming as an all-weather fighter squadron at Mitchel Field, NY in May 1947. Received P-61s at the end of 1947 but transitioned to F-82 at Moses Lake AFB, WA at end of 1948.

* 319th All Weather Squadron. Formed in September 1947 at Howard AFB Panama from personnel and equipment of 414th Night Fighter Squadron. Transitioned to F-82 by the time it returned to Mitchel Field, NY in May 1949.

* 339th All Weather Squadron. Formed from personnel and equipment of 6th Night Fighter Squadron at Johnson AB Japan February 1947. Transitioned to F-82F/G between 1947 and 1950. Note: The 339th was the last USAF squadron equipped with F-61s.

[edit] Survivors

Four P-61s are known to survive today - there is also reportedly a F-15 Reporter wreck in Greenland.[citation needed]

* P-61B-1NO c/n 964 42-39445[10] (N550NF), that crashed on 10 January 1945 on Mt. Cyclops in New Guinea was recovered in 1991 by the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum in Reading, Pennsylvania.[11] The aircraft has been undergoing a slow restoration since then with the intention of eventually returning it to flying condition; with the civilian registration N550NF. When finished, it is expected to be over 70% new construction. As of February 2008, the center pod is complete and the tail booms have been connected to the inner wings. The plane is expected to be towable on its landing gear as soon as the engines are installed to counterbalance the tail weight[12].

* P-61B-15NO c/n 1234 42-39715 [13][14], On outside display at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Beijing, China. The official story is that one of the P-61s that were based in Sichuan Province during the war was turned over to the Chendu Institute of Aeronautical Engineering in 1947. When the Institute moved to its present location, it did not take the plane with them, instead it was shipped to the Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Engineering in 1954. As both USAAF night fighter squadrons (426th, 427th) that served in China were inactivated in 1945, this may not be accurate.[citation needed]An alternate explanation is that at the end of hostilities in 1945, the 427th was in the process of bringing their various detachments back to a central airfield for disposition of the aircraft and to start processing home. At one of the satellite airfields there were three P-61s, two in need of maintenance. Reportedly some Chinese communist troops came onto the field and ordered the Americans to leave, but to leave their aircraft behind. The aircraft is in very poor condition and probably near the point of structural collapse.[citation needed] The Chinese claim to have two additional P-61s in storage which they have offered for sale for $2,000,000. [15]

P-61C 43-8330 NACA 330 National Air & Space Museum
P-61C 43-8330
NACA 330
National Air & Space Museum

* P-61C-1NO c/n 1376 43-8330 [16], belonging to the National Air and Space Museum(NASM).[17] Northrop delivered it to the Army on July 28, 1945. By October 18, this P-61 was flying at Ladd Field, Alaska, in cold weather tests and it remained there until March 30, 1946. This airplane later moved to Pinecastle Air Force Base, Florida, for participation in the National Thunderstorm Project.

Pinecastle personnel removed the guns and turret from 43-8330 in July 1946 to make room for new equipment. In September, the aircraft moved to Clinton County Army Air Base, Ohio, where it remained until January 1948. The Air Force then assigned the aircraft to the Flight Test Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. After declaring the airplane surplus in 1950, the Air Force stored it at Park Ridge, Illinois, on October 3 along with important aircraft destined for the National Air Museum.

NACA asked the Smithsonian to lend them the aircraft for use in another special program. The committee wanted to investigate how aerodynamic shapes behaved when dropped from high altitude. The Black Widow arrived at the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, Naval Air Station Moffett Field, California, on February 14, 1951. NACA returned the aircraft and delivered it to the Smithsonian at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, on August 10, 1954. When the engines were shut down for the last time, this P-61 had accumulated only 530 total flight hours. Smithsonian personnel trucked it to the Paul Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland. This aircraft has recently gone on public display on 8 June 2006 at the museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington D.C..

P-61C 42-8353 Moonlight Serenade USAF National Museum
P-61C 42-8353
Moonlight Serenade
USAF National Museum

* P-61C-1NO c/n 1399 43-8353[18] is currently on display at the USAFM[19] in Dayton, Ohio. It is marked as P-61B-1NO 42-39468 and is painted to represent "Moonlight Serenade" of the 550th Night Fighter Squadron. It recently had a reproduction turret installed, fabricated by the Museum's restoration team. The aircraft was donated to the museum in 1958 by the Tecumseh Chapter of the Boy Scouts of America in Springfield, Ohio.

[edit] Specifications (P-61B-20NO)

Data from Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War II,[20] and Northrop P-61 Black Widow.[21]

General characteristics

* Crew: 2-3 (pilot, radar operator, optional gunner)
* Length: 49 ft 7 in (15.11 m)
* Wingspan: 66 ft 0 in (20.12 m)
* Height: 14 ft 8 in (4.47 m)
* Wing area: 662.36 ft² (61.53 m²;)
* Empty weight: 23,450 lb (10,637 kg)
* Loaded weight: 29,700 lb (13,471 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 36,200 lb (16,420 kg)
* Powerplant: 2× Pratt & Whitney R-2800-65W Double Wasp radial engines, 2,250 hp (1,680 kW) each
* Propellers: four-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller, 1 per engine
o Propeller diameter: 146 in (3.72 m)

* Main wheel track: 17 ft 2 in (5.24 m)
* Fuel capacity:
o Internal: 640 US gal (2,423 L) of AN-F-48 100/130-octane rating gasoline
o External: Up to four 165 US gal (625 L) or 310 US gal (1,173 L) tanks under the wings
* Oil capacity: 22 US gal (83.3 L) of AN-0-8 oil per engine


* Maximum speed: 318 knots (366 mph, 589 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6,095 m)
* Combat range: 530 nm (610 mi, 982 km)
* Ferry range: 1,650 nm (1,900 mi, 3,060 km) with four external fuel tanks
* Service ceiling 33,100 ft (10,600 m)
* Rate of climb: 2,540 ft/min (12.9 m/s)
* Wing loading: 45 lb/ft² (219 kg/m²;)
* Power/mass: 0.15 hp/lb (25 W/kg)
* Time to altitude: 12 min to 20,000 ft (6,100 m)


* Guns:
o 4× 20 mm Hispano M2 cannon in ventral fuselage, 200 rounds per gun
o 4× 0.50 cal (12.7 mm) Browning M2 machine guns in upper turret, 560 rounds per gun
* Bombs: for ground attack, four bombs of up to 1,600 lb (726 kg) each or six 5 inch (127 mm) HVAR unguided rockets could be carried under the wings. Some aircraft could also carry one 1,000 lb (454 kg) bomb under the fuselage.


* SCR-720 (AI Mk.X) search radar
* SCR-695 tail warning radar
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