July 28, 2010
A classic symbol of World War II aviation, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is celebrating its 75th anniversary of flight today. To commemorate the airplane’s long history, at least four of them will be at the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin this week.
Of the nearly 13,000 B-17s produced between 1935 and 1945, almost 5,000 were shot down during WWII. These long-range bombers were vital to the Allied cause, and served as part of the U.S. Army’s Eighth Air Force. Only about 15 B-17s remain in flying condition today, so it’s a rare treat to have four of them—“Aluminum Overcast,” “Texas Raiders,” “Thunderbird,” and “Yankee Lady”—appearing at the same time at Oshkosh.
One of the most iconic B-17s, “Memphis Belle,” was the first to complete 25 combat missions. In line to be scrapped, the bomber was bought by Memphis mayor Walter Chandler in 1946. Restoring the aircraft proved costly, so it was moved to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, where it is still in the process of being restored. Two movies have been made about the airplane, one a 1944 War Department Documentary directed by William Wyler and the other a 1990 feature film.
Seventy-five years after its first flight, the B-17 is still a head-turner. If you’re interested in catching a ride in one, here’s more information.