Monday, October 06, 2014

More B-17 (Inside pics)

Naturally, I had to go inside the B-17 to take some pics, if only because Old NFO did so last week with another B-17 in Manassas.

Aw, heck, who am I kidding? There's no way that I wouldn't have done it.

Once up the ladder, you come into the bombardier's workspace. He sits up in the glass nose and actually flies the plane on the final bomb run while looking down through the bombsite. And all of the forward-firing machine guns are because he's the guy--along with the pilots--that the enemy fighters are trying for, often with a head-on run.
Oxygen bottles beneath the flight deck floor.
Where it all happens: the flight deck.
I'd have stayed here forever looking at this stuff, but people in line behind me were getting upset and starting to moo.
Here's the view aft from the upper machine gun turret as I squeeze in between the two .50 machine guns.
Looking out over the left wing from the turret. Normally the flight engineer manned this turret when not helping the pilots with the engines, making in-flight repairs, or keeping the other guns firing. He was a busy guy.
And here we go, back through the bomb bay.
Racks held the bombs on either side of this very narrow catwalk.
When the landing gear refused to go down, someone (usually that flight engineer guy) would come back into the bomb bay, kneel on the catwalk, and put the crank into this hole here and turn it until the gear lowered and locked. There's a crank on each side, one for each main wheel. There were also cranks for manual bomb bay door and wing flap actuation. Boeing thought of everything!
And here's the radio operator's seat.
When not on the radio, the radio operator manned a single .50 gun firing up through this window above his seat. Here's the view aft from that window, which is open today.
View forward, towards the upper turret.
Here's Murphy and Belle's new pal Stretch, taking pics from the outside.
Moving further aft, we come to the mount for the ball turret that hang beneath the aircraft.
Not a position for tall or fat people. The gunner in the ball turret literally fired the guns between his feet, and had to stay in there for hours at a time. Still, what a view he must have had. The big silver boxes are ammo for his two .50 machine guns.
Here's another view, showing the oxygen tank for the ball turret, which was neither pressurized, nor heated. No part of the B-17 was.
The ball turret from outside.
Here's the left-firing waist gun.
And the right-firing waist gun across from it.

Nearly every day during the last half of the war, hundreds of these bombers flew from England over Germany, each carrying ten young American men. Some came back, but many did not. It was tough enough to fly for hours at 30,000 feet, with temperatures so cold that if your electrically-heated flying suit or your oxygen system failed, you'd likely die in your position because no single bomber could leave the formation lest it become a sitting duck for every enemy fighter out there. And if your plane was hit by those fighters, or cannon fire from the ground, or it collided with another bomber or just had a mechanical problem, you'd be lucky to get out of the falling aircraft and luckier still to reach the ground alive by parachute, where, hopefully, the citizens on the ground might not kill you. It was a rough way to fight a war, indeed, and my hat's off to all of those men who did it when America called.

The Nine-O-Nine below as we flew out later.


  1. Great pics ML! Thanks.

  2. I've walked around several 17's, but I've never been inside one.

    Thanks for taking me there!

  3. Anonymous6:51 PM

    Great pictures and a great tour of the plane

  4. Have you read "The Death Of the Ball Turret Gunner"?

    1. Randall Jarrell

      The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

      From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
      And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
      Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
      I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
      When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

  5. Great pics! I'm fortunate that the Sentimental Journey and the CAF hanger are close by. You think those planes are big until you start squeezing through them.

  6. thanks for the pics. A friends Dad was a belly gunner, amazing story.

  7. Nice pics! What model is she? D or E?

  8. I had a teacher in my senior year at high school who had been a waist gunner in the B-17s, he ended up a POW. Had some interesting stories.
    I'd heard that you got into & out of the bottom ball turret from the outside, I was not able to tell from the photos.

    1. Yep. Outside. But so tight in there, that use of a parachute was nearly impossible.

  9. Amazing photos and I love your blog! I got a ride in the Aluminum Overcast last year. Pre-flight, the pilot walked around explaining things about the plane. He said the ball turret (especially) was like the Star Wars of it's day. Remember that America was still very rural before the war, and many of the mostly teenage crews had maybe only seen some barnstormers before. With all the WWII history I'd read and watched, never got that insight before...