Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Interior Colors Part I

One of the reasons for starting this blog was to have a place for collecting all the little details dug up while researching information to build a model and putting them in a single place where they can be organized and located again when needed, along with  notes explaining what was found.  On several occasions I have revisited a topic later only to find that I can’t remember why I thought a particular component was a certain color or when the wheel tread pattern changed on the landing gear.  Writing things down here helps with all that, and if you guys can use this information too then saving you time is a bonus.  So with that in mind here is some information on B-17 interior colors for anyone wanting to model a Flying Fortress.

The Boeing B-17 remains a popular aircraft and there are a lot of photographs out there of restored B-17s, both on the Warbird circuit and in museums.  There are even a few of these pictures on this blog.  This is actually a mixed blessing for modelers, while you can get a good feel for the layout and structure of the Flying Fortress, many (if not most) restorations paint the aircraft with preservation as the priority instead of accuracy.  This has resulted in lots of “Interior Green” inside of the aircraft where it was not used in actual production.  We then carry these errors on to our models, further reinforcing the mistake because it matches what we have seen either in person or in reference books.

I’m going to present the information on B-17 interior colors in two parts.  This first section will present the official specifications from Technical Order 01-20EF-2 B-17F Airplane Erection and Maintenance Instructions, and official Boeing factory photographs of production aircraft which reflect the specified standards.  The second section will be variations from these specifications, along with details and colors of some of the installed equipment.

B-17 Interior Color Summary from T. O. 01-20EF-2:

  1. Paint everything Aluminum unless otherwise noted. This includes the entire fuselage interior (except for the flight deck), wheel wells, cowling interiors, bomb bays, bomb racks, landing gear (on uncamouflaged aircraft) and the inside surface of the bomb bay doors.
  2. The cockpit area should be Bronze Green (FS 14058 but a little darker) or Dull Dark Green (FS 34092).
  3. Early B-17s had insulative batting for noise reduction installed in the nose compartment, flight deck, and radio compartments. This was covered with neatly upholstered Dark Green or Olive Drab canvas cloth.  Crews often removed the batting in theater, the underlying airframe was left unprimed in natural Aluminum. Later production Fortresses reduced or omitted this covering in the nose and radio compartments.  If you have rib detail showing on a Fortress interior, it should be natural aluminum.
  4. Plywood was used to fabricate many interior structures such as ammo boxes, the navigator’s table, compartment doors, and walkways. These were covered in two coats of varnish and were often left unpainted, especially in later production.
  5. Radio equipment and instrument panels were black. Oxygen bottles were yellow.  Fire extinguishers were left in natural metal.  Walkways were covered in a rubber non-slip material.  Interior components were provided from numerous subcontractors, so there can be some variations in details and finishes.

Link to Part II here:

Link to Part III here:

Looking aft into the nose of a B-17E, the bombardier’s seat is in the foreground, the navigator sat in a seat behind him facing the port side of the aircraft.  This compartment is completely covered in the sound-deadening insulation.  An unpainted (not red) fire extinguisher is mounted to the aft bulkhead.  Note the armor plate behind the bombardier’s seat, and his yellow seat cushion.  Note that no structural ribbing is visible, and the details of the upholstered canvas covering the rear bulkhead.  (All photos credit Boeing unless otherwise noted)
The nose compartment of the B-17E again, this time looking forward.  The Navigator’s table in the left foreground appears to be black enamel on an aluminum frame on this Fortress.  The armor behind the bombardier’s seat is primed.  A Browning .30 caliber machine gun is mounted in the lower right of the nose glazing, four additional mounting sockets are visible in the photograph.
A similar photograph but a later variant, this is B-17G-60-BO serial number 42-102955.  This aircraft was later assigned to the 510 Bomb Squadron / 351 Bomb Group and given the name “Chatterbox II” by her crew.  The bombardier’s chair is now an “office” style and is unarmored.  It rests upon the circular housing for the Bendix chin turret which he controls.  To the right and left are the Navigator’s .50 cal cheek guns with their plywood ammo boxes mounted on the floor to the right.  The Navigator’s table, also made of plywood, is in the lower left corner.  There is no acoustical insulation installed forward of the bulkhead.
B-17G 42-102955 again, the photographer has pivoted to the left to show the Navigator’s plywood table and the front side of the bulkhead, which displays the dark Olive Drab canvas covering.  The inside of the aircraft’s Aluminum skin is covered in the Alcoa Aluminum Company’s stenciling, identifying the sheet metal used on the airframe as ALCLAD 24S-1.
This is a really interesting find, this is the cockpit of a B-17C.  There are several differences from later variants visible here, including the lack of armor behind the seats, different oxygen bottles behind the pilot, raised flightdeck flooring, and early style control wheels.  A more subtle change is the position of the photographer himself – in the B-17E and later versions he would be standing where the Sperry dorsal turret structure would be installed.
This is the cockpit area of a B-17G before the pilot and co-pilot’s seats are installed, giving an excellent view of the instruments and control layout.  Compare this photograph with the B-17C cockpit in the previous picture.
The bomb bay is the next compartment aft of the flight deck, here is a view looking forward.  This is an unfinished B-17E.  Several components are awaiting installation but this gives an excellent view of the structural elements.
A finished B-17E bomb bay looking aft.  Safety lines are in place to help keep crewmen on the narrow catwalk between the bomb racks.  The Alcoa stenciling is visible on the aircraft skin confirming the bomb bay is unpainted.  If you look in the lower corners of the photograph you see that the wing interior is sheeted off from the bomb bay.
Next is the Radio compartment looking forward.  The Dark Green or Olive Drab covering for the acoustical batting is in place here as well.  Seats are in unpainted aluminum and are unarmored.  Radio equipment is in black.  The control cables running from the cockpit to the tail surfaces pass through on either side overhead.
Looking aft in the radio compartment is more radio equipment and another door leading aft.  Mounted to the bulkhead to the left are two hand cranks for manually lowering the flaps in case of hydraulic failure.
B-17E fuselage interior looking forward showing the waist gun positions.  This photograph is particularly interesting as it shows the remote sighting installation for the unmanned Sperry Model 645705-D belly turret.  This gun installation was not successful and was only installed on the first 112 B-17Es produced, serial numbers 41-2394 through 41-2504.  The gunner operated the sight by laying on the floor facing aft between the feet of the already cramped waist gunners.  The belly gunner’s side scanning windows are clearly visible, two on each side, immediately above the steps.  Control cables are overhead.  For those who believe the belly turret was a Bendix design, please see here:
The tail gunner’s position before attaching to the aircraft.  The racks on either side held the .50 cal ammunition boxes, the belts were fed through the guide trays mounted on either side.  The gunner faced aft and knelt on the padded rests while sitting on the bicycle type seat in the center.
The tail gun position from the exterior.  Formation lights are installed below the guns, which are fitted with aluminum flash hiders.  Movement of the tail guns was obviously limited, firing arcs were not improved until the design of the Cheyenne tail turret for the B-17G.



 The two most relevant pages for Flying Fortress interior colors from Technical Order 01-20EF-2 B-17F Airplane Erection and Maintenance Instructions, for your reading pleasure.

18 thoughts on “Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Interior Colors Part I

  1. Hi Jeff thank you for finally getting some of this info out. We are restoring a B17 E and trying to be as faithful as possible. Yes interior was unpainted but if a rib and most were formed then they were usually anodized resulting in a gray color. Also on ours the US Army under the wing was painted in an insignia blue not black. Also just a note on the earlier models the ammo boxes were made of aluminum I’m a model or two and happy to see some accurate information getting out there. Mike Kellner B17 E desert rat/tangerine. 41-2595.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article! It has helped me a lot as I´m about to build 1/48 scale B-17F by HK Models going for the Lulu Belle, 41-24358. Any research for this mount on inner surfaces coloring, at least for nose guns mounting?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Libor! I would go with natural Aluminum, with the structural support primed or not to match the framing. The problem you get into with the smaller components is they were usually supplied by sub-contractors, and each had their own ideas about priming. If you look at the color photos in part II there are several examples of this. Best of luck with your build!


      1. Thanks for lightning fast response Jeff:-). Just to make sure myself here is one more question about floors/decks coloring. My thoughts are as follow: varnished plywood in the bombardiers nose section, silver or black anti skid in the pilots cabin, silver or black in the radio compartment room.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Go through the photos on all three posts, on the operational aircraft the walkways all seem to have rubber mats attached to the walkways with metal fasteners. My understanding is this was standard regardless of the construction as an anti-slip measure. I have defaulted to a “scale black” color on my builds for the interior flooring. I suspect this was “wall to wall” but there could have been cut outs in some areas. The problem with Forts is very little of the interior is visible on the finished model anyway, I have found that the seats and their cushions are the most visible details!


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