Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress

The B-17E was the first version of the Flying Fortress to have the aircraft’s familiar appearance. It was designed after RAF Fortress Is had seen combat, revealing that the aircraft was badly under-armed for its role as a daylight bomber. The B-17E was redesigned with increased firepower in mind, featuring two gun turrets and a rear gunner’s position as well as its waist guns, radio operator’s gun and nose gun.

The most obvious visual changes were made to the tail. On earlier models the vertical stabilizer had been just behind the horizontal stabilizer, only partially overlapping. The fuselage tapered to a narrow point level with the rear of the rudder. On the B-17E (and all later versions) the vertical stabilizer was increased in size, and a long fin ran up the top of the fuselage. The rear fuselage was widened and deepened to create the space of a rear gunner’s position (not a turret). This position carried a pair of 0.50in machine guns, with the gunner part-kneeling and part-sitting in a small cabin under the rudder. This removed one of the main weaknesses in early B-17s. 

Boeing B-17: Ds and Es together
Boeing B-17: Ds and Es together

The armoured “tub” below the fuselage was replaced with a remotely sighted power-operated belly turret, carrying two 0.50in machine guns, and operated by a gunner further back in the fuselage. This was not a great success – to use his periscope gun sight the gunner had to kneel on the floor of the aircraft, and many gunners suffered from vertigo and nausea. After 112 aircraft had been built with the remotely controlled turret it was replaced with a Sperry ball turret. This could be lowered under the aircraft while in flight, and was a much more effective weapon. However, space was tight, and so the ball gunner was normally the smallest member of the crew. The biggest problem with the ball turret was that the gunner could only get out of it when the guns were pointing straight down. If the turret was damaged and jammed in a different position then a very nervous landing would follow!

Finally a standard Sperry turret was placed on the roof of the main cabin, replacing the Commander’s observation dome. This turret also carried two 0.50in machine guns, and was operated by the Flight Engineer. The B-17E also retained the twin gun mounting in the radio operator’s position and the two waist guns, although the teardrop shaped windows of the B-17C and B-17D were replaced with a rectangular window.

512 B-17Es were produced, starting on 27 September 1941. The B-17E entered service just before the attack on Pearl Harbour, and was the most important variant of the bomber in use in the Pacific throughout 1942. The B-17E was also the first version of the bomber to see service with the Eighth Air Force in Britain. On 17 August 1942 twelve B-17Es from the 97th Bombardment Group, accompanied by RAF Spitfires, bombed the marshalling yard at Rouen-Sotteville

Engine: Four Wright Cyclone R-1820-65
Horsepower: 1,200hp each
Span: 103ft 9in
Length: 73ft 10in
Empty Weight: 32,251lb
Gross Weight: 40,260lb
Maximum Loaded: 53,000lb
Max Speed: 318mph
Cruising Speed: 226mph
Ceiling: 36,000ft
Range: 3,300 miles
Radius of action:
Armament: Ten .50in machine guns, one .30in machine guns
Bomb load: 4x1000lb (4000lb) or 20x100lb (2000lb) or 14x300lb (4200lb)

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Frederick A. Johnsen. A well researched and illustrated history of the B-17, with a very strong section on its combat record, an interesting chapter on the efforts made to improve the aircraft (including a number of suggestions that didn't enter production) and a good selection of colour pictures of the aircraft. [see more]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (1 December 2007), Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress ,

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