Doomed ME 109 plowed into this Flying Fortress over Tunisia, cutting fuselage nearly in half, entirely removing one elevator. Pilot nursed the airplane home to British base, brought it in for a perfect landing.
The combat record of the Flying Fortress has been written daily in newspaper headlines since Dec. 7, 1941.
From the hour of Pearl Harbor, through the dark, early months of the war in the Pacific, they were sinking Jap ships and shooting arrogant Zeros out of the skies.
They carried the war to the enemy in the Coral Sea, over Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Java, Burma, and the Bismarck Sea.
Changing tactics, they hedgehopped volcanic peaks, flew practically at water level through unbroken fog, to bomb the Japs out of the Aleutians.
They flew the blistering deserts to drive the enemy out of North Africa, the Mediterranean, Sicily, and open the way to Rome.
Beginning in August, 1942, they brought daylight bombing to Hitler's Europe, first over strategic targets in Occupied France, then gradually spreading out over the continent until, in the spring of 1944, shuttle bombing from bases in Britain and Russia left no corner of the once haughty Festung Europa safe from concentrated Allied bombing attacks.
Detailed Fortress history must remain a voluminous post-war job for military historians. For pilots, however, one important fact stands clear-cut now. The Flying Fortress is a rugged airplane.
In the words of one veteran: "She'll not only get you to the target and do the job, but she'll fight her way out, take terrific punishment, and get you safely home."
Headlines have reiterated that fact with heart-warming redundancy:
40 NAZIS RIDDLE FORT, BUT FAIL TO DOWN IT.
LAME FORTRESS BAGS 6 GERMANS, MAKES HOME BASE.
B-17, SPLIT IN TWO, LANDS SAFELY.
FORT FALLS 10,000 FEET, BUT COMPLETES RAID.
FORT LIMPS HOME ON ONE MOTOR.
HARD-HIT FORT CUTS LOOSE BALL TURRET, GETS HOME.
FORT STRUGGLES HOME WITH TAIL BLOWN OFF.
The B-17's incredible capacity to take it-to come flying home on three, two, even one engine, sieve-like with flak and bullet holes, with large sections of wing or tail surfaces shot away —has been so widely publicized that U. S. fighting men could afford to joke about it.
But the fact remains: the rugged Forts can take it and still fly home. Why?
The B-17 is built for battle. Its wings are constructed with heavy truss-type spars which tend to localize damage by enemy fire so that basic wing strength is not affected.
Because of its unusual tail design, the airplane can be flown successfully even when vertical or horizontal tail surfaces have been partially destroyed, or with one or more engines shot away.
Even when battle damage prevents use of all other control methods, the autopilot provides near-normal maneuverability.
There are many other reasons. But perhaps the most important of all is the fact that every man who flies one knows that the B-17 is a pilot's airplane. It inspires confidence and warrants it. For the fulfillment of its intended function it demands just one thing: pilot know-how.
Fragments of German 8.3-inch rocket tore into fuselage aft of cockpit, made long journey hbme difficult. Most Fortress crews, always amazed by airplane's ability to take it, have a word for the fighting B-17: "Rugged."
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