A Dying Breed...
The Boeing Model 299 - that was the moniker that was the center of Boeing's manufacturing and development centers in the early and mid 1930s. The United States Army was beginning to see an increased need for the coverage of the skies and airpower. Rallied by a court-martialed officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps, air power up to this point was not taken seriously by the U.S. military as a significant need in the future. By the mid 1930s, however, that was seen to be simply untrue.
The U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) had in it's arsenal, the Martin B-10 bomber, a dual engine medium range bomber. However, the advancement in anti-aircraft defense mechanisms and the need for increased range meant that the B-10 would be far too heavy and cumbersome for a future conflict. Thus, in 1934, the USAAC outlined the need for a replacement of this heavy monster. Much like in today's world, the USAAC decided that it would be best to select the future aircraft by way of a fly-off between two models. This contest took place on 28 July 1935 against the Martin Model 146, and a Douglas entry. The USAAC decided that the Model 299 was the best candidate for the requirements outlined: top speed of at least 200 mph, a range of around 2,000 miles, and a service ceiling of at least 10,000 feet. The Model 299 would surpass all of these requirements.
After a rocky start, with the first prototype crashing on it's second flight on 30 October 1935, the USAAC opted to give the Model 299 a green light in January of 1936 - and thus the B-17 Flying Fortress was born.
Boasting a top speed of just under 300 mph, a range of 2,000 miles, and a service ceiling of 35,000 feet, the B-17 was an impressive design that the USAAC could simply not ignore. Little did they know at the time of what was in store for this aircraft in the future. The B-17 Flying Fortress was one of two primary American bombers to be deployed in Europe during World War II. Over 12,000 of the aircraft were produced by the time the war ended, and some national Air Forces retained the bomber in operational status up through the 1960s. The B-17 was the primary executing bomber tasked with the mission within the scope of the Combined Bomber Offensive. In addition, dozens of surviving B-17's continued service in the USAF as drones in the form of the QB-17 through the 1950s.
Today, the majority of surviving B-17's are the G variant. Many perform at air shows around the United States. Several participated in heritage flights in France during the World War II commemoration ceremonies this past year. Of the 12,000 aircraft produced, only 45 remain today.