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 History of the B-17 Flying Fortress

The Boeing B-17, perhaps the most famous of the World War II combat aircraft, saw service in every combat theater. A total of 12,731 Fortresses were built.

In July 1941, the British used the B-17 on precision bombing runs on enemy installations. In December of the same year, 17 Fortresses flew the first U.S. missions in the Pacific. In August 1942, 12 B-17s made the first U.S. raid from England, bombed Rouen, shot down their first German aircraft, and returned with no casualties. 

During the war, B-17s dropped 640,036 tons of bombs on European targets in daylight raids. This compares with 452,508 tons dropped by Liberators and 464,544 tons dropped by all other U.S. aircraft. The B-17s downed 23 enemy planes per 1,000 raid as compared with 11 by Liberators, 11 by fighters, and three by all U.S. medium and light bombers. 

Following 1935 when the first B-17 was built by Boeing, constant design improvements developed the 32,000-pound Flying Fortress into the 65,000-pound giant of its day. During the later stages of the war, B-17s also were built under license by Douglas and Lockheed.

(Above info compiled from the Confederate Air Force brochure)

More information below:

Cabin Heating

The B-17F and G were equipped with receptacles to plug in flying suits at all crew positions (the G model had an extra receptacle in the radio room). There was also a cabin heating system. In the B-17F and early G models this was a Glycol system that was heated by the inboard engines.

Later G models used a forced air system that heated the air by running it through exchangers mounted on the engine exhaust pipes - externally planes with the forced air system could be identified by the metal covers over the exhaust pipes - this system also served to defrost the windows.


There was soundproofing insulation in the forward areas of the aircraft. The flight deck was always insulated -in the B-17E,F and early G models the bombardier and radio areas were also insulated. In later G models it looks like the insulation was not installed in the radio room or nose area - except for the bulkhead (forward of the instrument panel).

Michael Lombardi
Corporate Historian,
The Boeing Company

B-17 with a toilet? Thanks for the laugh. The nearest thing to a toilet was the old relief tube that would freeze up at altitude with predictable and often embarrassing results. Sam Halpert

I never saw a 17 with a chemical toilet but in the 322nd there was a spare radio operator that I flew with several times that had to have a bowel movement as soon as we got into the air. He used a steel helmet and would set it on the fins of a bomb. Of course it stayed there till bombs away, along with the odor. When it got into the oxygen system it seemed to be worse. I used to say if some German was to find the helmet with it's contents they would think they had blown some American's brains out. Hank Hall

There were toilets in the early B-17 models E and F. When the ground crew obtained an aircraft they were told to remove the toilets at once. There also was a Thermos jug and we were also told to remove them. They really came in handy for a beer run to Duffy's Tavern. I never did find out what was done with the toilets they removed. They may have found their way into the portable johns they had at that time. Jack Gaffney