In March 2014, I had to good fortune to take advantage of a leg of the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour and visited a three-aircraft flight that included a Consolidated B-24J Liberator (SN 44-44052, “Witchcraft”) a TP-51C Mustang fighter (42-103293, “Betty Jane”) and a late block 85 Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress (44-83575, painted as 42-31909, “Nine O Nine”).
It was a beautiful day and they were beautiful, and increasingly machines.
The original Nine O Nine survived the great Augsburg raid and 18 roundtrips over Berlin with the 8th Air Force over a 140 mission career in WWII. SN 44-83575, shown above in the more famous Fortress’ colors, was built too late for combat, then served as a rescue aircraft, Atomic instrumentation aircraft, and forest fire bomber until she was restored to her original WWII configuration in the 1980s by the Collings Foundation. (Photo: Chris Eger)
Sadly, yesterday at Connecticut’s Bradley International Airport, Nine O Nine was destroyed in the crash, and seven of the thirteen people on board were killed.
Official caption: “Giving them the appearance of Monsters from Mars, the vapor trails left by these B-17 Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Army 8th AF leave their marls in the sub-stratosphere. Vapor trails left by Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Army 8th AF leave their marks in the sub-stratosphere. The curved trails were made by the fighters accompanying the B-17’s. The deadly .50 Cal. Machine guns, bristling from the leading Fortress, are plainly visible against the light reflected from the contrails.”
Note the fighter top cover. U.S. Army A.A.F. photo No. 26566 A.C. LC-USZ62-107648
In a follow up to yesterday’s post on the M2 unjamming tool made by a B17 gunner, here is an interesting version of the B17G. The “G” model Flying Fortress was not so much a bomber as it was a flying anti-aircraft artillery cluster. Equipped with a remotely operated Bendix-made chin turret, the G model had 13 AN/M2 .50 cals compared to the 7 in previous models.
And some had even more.
Meet West End, tail number 42-31435, who was equipped with an experimental 6-barrel Bendix turret, giving her a total of 17 M-2 heavy machine guns.
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Each had a cyclic rate of fire topping 850 rounds per minute (a bit spicier than the typical ground combat variant of Ma Deuce), giving West End the theoretical capability of ripping out 240 .50 BMG tracers per second if all 17 of her guns were engaged.
This aircraft was credited with 27 combat missions with the 384th Bomb Group and crash landed at RAF Manston, Kent, due to major flak damage after escorting a raid on a German V-weapons complex near Coubronne, France 6 July 1944.
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The B-17s plastering Hitler’s Europe flew at 25,000 feet on average, and it gets kinda cold up there, especially in an unpressurized aircraft with open gun ports in the belly. How cold? Like -58F. Since they had a partially pressurized cabin for most of the flight crew, it was the gunners who suffered the most.
These men, controlling M2 Browning .50 cals, wore electrically heated suits and heavy gloves that provided some protection against temperatures, but, with temperature so cold that skin would freeze to metal, the couldn’t take off their gloves to clear a jam without leaving hide behind on their guns.
This well used spoon shaped un-jamming tool was utilized by a B-17 tail gunner in Europe during World War II. The tool was handmade and used because the cold and gloves hampered dexterity.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
It is currently in the collection of the National Museum of the Air Force.
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Color photograph of the B-17 Flying Fortress “Idiots’ Delight” of Eighth Air Force in England. The original caption states the M/Sgt is Penrose A. Bingham of Reading, Pennsylvania. “Idiots’ Delight” served with the 332nd Bomb Squadron, 94th Bomb Group and later with the 710th Bomb Squadron, 447th Bomb Group. (U.S. Air Force Photograph via Lone Sentry.)