The development of the aeroplane has always been very rapid. Only 15 years separated the Wright Bros. first flight in 1903 to the end of the First World War in 1918. Yet, in that short time, the aeroplane had developed from a crude machine capable of flying only a limited distance to a lethal weapon of war.
The pace of development only increased after the end of the war as both governments and private individuals continued to experiment with the limitless possibilities.
The pace was so rapid that, by 1934, the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) was seeking a new multi-engine bomber capable of carrying a "useful bomb load" at a minimum altitude of 10,000 feet for not less than 10 hours at a minimum speed of 200 MPH. Three companies built prototypes for consideration; Douglas, Martin, and Boeing.
Both the Douglas and Martin entries were conventional twin engine designs but Boeing submitted a revolutionary design with four engines that easily surpassed the stated requirements. In fact, the Boeing design proved to be far superior to the two other aeroplanes. Tragically, however, the Boeing plane crashed on its second flight and was not available to finish the evaluation process and the USAAC declared the Douglas aeroplane the winner and placed an order for 133 planes.
But the performance of the Boeing was so far ahead of the Douglas that the Army found funds to order 13 for testing. The aeroplane received the designation of "YB-17" and so the most famous allied aeroplane of the Second World War was born.
The B-17 went into production in 1938 and a total of 12,700 were built before production ended in 1945. Beginning with the B-17B through the B-17G the aeroplane there were 12 major and many minor variations produced with the "G" model having the greatest number produced at over 8,600.
The B-17 was one of the most capable strategic bombers of the war. While not able to carry as heavy a bomb load as the B-24 Liberators, the B-17 had a higher service ceiling and a remarkable ability to survive damage that downed many other aeroplanes.
By the end of the war, the B-17 had served with 20 different allied air forces and captured B-17s were used by both Germany and Japan as transport and training aircraft.
After the war, many B-17s remained in service around the world and were used in many different roles including air-sea rescue, as water bombers for fighting forest fires, iceberg patrol, and photo mapping missions.
Today, several B-17s remain airworthy and are flown by a number of historical organizations as living museums. Typically, these aeroplanes fly into a location as part of a festival and rides are offered to the public for a fee. Many other B-17s are on static display around the world.
If you have any interest in the history of flight, or in the history of WW II and have an opportunity to see one of these still active aeroplanes in person you should certainly do so. It is an amazing experience.
There are many models of B-17s available if you would like to build one of your own for display. Finding high quality kits can be challenging but a good place to both learn more about the B-17 and the kits available is http://j.mp/WDbBEf
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