• Andre Venter

“Sally B”- The B-17 Flying Fortress


“Sally B” Is the name of an airworthy 1945 built Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress. It is the only Airworthy B-17 left in Europe. The aircraft is based at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, “Sally B” flies in air shows, in the UK and across Europe as well as serving as an airborne memorial to the United States Army Air Forces airmen who lost their lives in the European theatre.

Richard William, a reporter for The Seattle Times, coined the name “Flying Fortress” in his article on the aircraft. When the aircraft rolled out of the factory bristling with multiple machine guns, the most unusual was in the nose of the aircraft, which allowed the single machine gun to be fired toward almost any frontal angle.

Boeing at the time was quick to see the value and had it claimed as its trademark. It also claimed that it was the first combat aircraft that could continue its mission if one of its four engines failed.

This aircraft was delivered to the USAAF on the 19th June 1945 as 4485784, too late to see active service in the war. After being converted to both a TB-17G training variant and later an EB-17G it was struck off charge in 1954. In 1954 the Intitute Geographique National in France bought the plane for use as a survey aircraft. In 1975 it moved to England and was registered with the CAA as G-BED to be restored to glorious wartime condition.

Intitute Geographique National

“Sally B” was first fitted with accurate gun turrets and other much needed additions for her role as Ginger Rogers, a B-17 bomber of the fictitious bomber unit featured in the 1981 LWT series We’ll Meet Again.

During the winter of 1983-84, Sally B was painted in an olive drab and neutral grey colour scheme, in place of the bare metal scheme he had worn since construction, in order to protect the airframe from the damp UK weather. At the same time, she received the marking of the 447th Bomber Group.

“Sally B” was used in the film Memphis Belle as one of five flying B-17s needed for various film scenes, and it is was used to replicate the real Memphis Belle in one scene. Half of the aircraft is still in the Memphis Belle colours, following the restoration of the “Sally B” nose art and the black and yellow checkerboard pattern on the cowling of the starboard inner(no3) engine, carried as a tribute to Elly Sallingboe’s companion Ted White, whose Harvard had the same pattern on its cowling. “Sally B” was reworked to B-17F configuration for filming.

Since 1985, Sally B has been operated by Elly Sallingboe’s “B-17 Preservation Ltd and maintained by Chief Engineer Peter Brown and a team of volunteers. The aircraft is flown by volunteer experienced professional pilots. The B-17 Charitable Trust exists to raise funds to keep the aircraft flying.

"Sally B's" Crew

In 2008, Elly Sallingboe was awarded the Transport Trust ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ in recognition of over thirty years of dedication to the preservation and operation of Britain’s only airworthy Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress as a flying memorial to the tens of thousands of American aircrew who lost their lives in her sister aircraft during the Second World War.

Elly Sallingboe receiving an award

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was a four engine heavy bombers developed in the 1930 for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). Competing against Douglas and Martin for a contract to build 200 bombers, the Boeing entry (prototype Model 299/XB-17) outperformed both competitors and exceeded the air corps performance specification. Although Boeing lost the contract (to the Douglas B-18 Bolo) as a prototype crashed, the air corps ordered 13 more B-17 for further evaluation.

Douglas B-18 Bolo

From its introduction in 1938 the B-17 Flying Fortress evolved through numerous design advances, becoming the third-most produced bomber of all time, behind the four-engine B-24 and the multirole, twin engine JU 88.

B-24 JU 88

The B-17 was primarily employed by the USAAC in the daylight strategic bombing campaign of World War against German industrial and military target. The United States Eighth Air Force, based at many airfields in Central and Southern England, and the Fifteenth Air Force Base in Italy. The B-17 complemented the RAF Bomber Command’s night-time area bombing in the Combined Bomber Offensive to help secure air superiority over the cities, factories and battlefields of Western Europe in preparation for the invasion of France in 1944.

The B-17 also participated to a lesser extent in the War in the Pacific, early in World War 11, where it conducted raids against Japanese shipping and airfields. From its pre-war inception, the USAAC (By June 1941, the USAAF) promoted the aircraft as a strategic weapon; it was a relatively fast, high flying, long-ranged bomber with a heavy defensive armament at the expense of the bomb load. It developed a reputation for toughness based upon stories and photograph of badly damaged B-17 returning to base.

The B-17 developed a reputation as an effective bomber, dropping more bombs than any other U.S. Aircraft in World War II. Of the 1.5 million tonnes of the bombs dropped on Nazi Germany and its occupied territories by U.S. aircraft, 640000 tonnes were dropped from B-17’S.

In addition to its role as bomber, the B-17 was employed as a transport, antisubmarine aircraft, drone controller, and search-and-rescue aircraft.

On 8th August 1934 the USAAC tendered a proposal for a multiengine bomber to replace their Martin B-10. The requirement was that the aircraft should carry a useful bomb load at an altitude of 10,000ft for 10 hours with a top speed of at least 200mph.

Martin B-10

The porotype B-17, with the Boeing factory designation of Model 299, was designed by a team of engineers led by E. Gillord Emery and Edward Curtis Wells, and was built at Boeing’s own expense. It combined features of the company’s experimental XB-15 bomber and 247 transport.

The B-17 armament consisted of five .30calabire (7.62mm) machine guns; with a payload up to 4800 lb (2,200kg) of bombs on the racks in the bomb bay behind the cockpit. The aircraft was powered by four Pratt Whitney R-1690 Hornet radial engines, producing 750hp (600Kw) at 7000 ft.

On the 20th August 1935 the prototype flew from Seattle to Wright field in 9 hours 3min which was faster than any competition. Changes were made by Boeing and test pilot Major Ployer and Boeing employee Les Tower took the aircraft on a second evaluation flight and it crashed.

Regardless, the USAAC had been impressed by the prototype performance, and on 17th January 1936, the air corps ordered 13 YB-17s. The YB-17 incorporated a number of significant changes from the Model 299, including more powerful Wright-1820-39 Cyclone engine. Although the prototype was company –owned and never received a military serial number (the B-17 designation itself did not appear officially until 1936, nearly 3 months after the prototype crashed.

In one of the first missions three B-17’s, directed by lead navigator Lieutenant Curtis Le May, were sent by General Andrews to intercept and photograph the Italian Ocean Liner Rex 610 miles off the Atlantic coast. The Mission was successful and widely published. The 13th Y1B-17 was delivered to the Material Division at Wright Field, Ohio for flight testing. A 14th Y1B-17(37-369 ) originally constructed for ground testing of the airframe’s strength, was upgraded and fitted with exhaust –driven General Electric turbocharge. Scheduled to fly in 1937, it encountered problem with the turbocharges, and its first flight delayed until 29th April 1938. The aircraft was delivered to the army on 31st 1939. Once service testing was completed, the Y1B-17s and the Y1B-17A were redisignated B-17 and B-17A, respectively, to signify the change to operational status.

Opposition to the air corps ambitions for the acquisition of more B-17 faded, and in late 1937, 10 more aircraft designated B-17B was ordered to equip two bombardment groups, one on each U.S. coast. Improved with larger flaps and rudder and a well-framed, 10 panelled Plexiglas nose, the B-17B’s were delivered in five small batches between July 1939 and March 1940. In July 1940 an order for 512 B-17s was issued, but at the time of the Pearl Harbour Attack, fewer than 200 were in service with the army.

A total of 155 B-17s of all variants was delivered between 11 January 1937 and 30th November 1941, but production quickly accelerated, with the B-17 once holding the record for the highest production rate for any large aircraft. The aircraft went on to serve in every World War II combat zone, and by the time production ended in May 1945, 12731 aircraft had been built.


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