During the war B-17 Flying Fortresses were produced at three locations. The Boeing plant at Seattle, Washington was assigned production code BO; Douglas at Long Beach, California was DL; and Lockheed Vega at Burbank, California was VE. These codes were noted at the end of each aircraft’s batch number. Each factory was supplied with equipment and pre-manufactured assemblies by various subcontractors. While governed by the same set of regulations, variations in production practices and suppliers inevitably resulted detail differences.
In the first post on B-17 interiors I showed the standards for the “official” colors and appearance. In this post I’ll show some of the variations and details of operational Fortresses.
Link to the first part is here:
Link to Part 3 is here:
Here is a very interesting color photograph of three fitters installing equipment in the aft fuselage of a Fortress. While the official USAAF Technical Order specified the fuselage interior was to remain unpainted, here the longitudinal stringers were supplied to Boeing already primed. Also note the supports for the gunners’ footrests are each primed, stamped, and annotated.
B-17G-105-VE serial number 44-85790 was purchased by a Mr. Art Lacey and displayed above his gas station / restaurant in Milwaukie Oregon. In 2014 the aircraft was purchased by the B-17 Alliance Foundation and is currently being restored to airworthy condition as “Lacey Lady”. It is a late-production Vega Fortress and is of interest because it remained unrestored, a virtual time capsule. This is the interior of the port wheelwell looking aft. While the skin of the nacelle is unpainted aluminum, the rear bulkhead and internal structural components have been primed. (Photograph by Steve Heeb)
This is a photo showing the cockpit of the NMUSAF restoration of B-17F-10-BO serial number 41-24485, the “Memphis Belle”. This shows the Dull Dark Green color specified, FS 34092. The boots on the control columns are Olive Drab canvas.
Another restoration showing the other color specified in Technical Order 01-20EF-2, Bronze Green. In this picture the color looks a bit too bright due to the lighting, but it is useful as a general comparison with the previous picture. I would doubly caution modelers attempting to directly match the colors in the photograph – the aircraft is a restoration and even if the restoration team got the color exactly right the photograph and your computer monitor may not capture the tone correctly. Modelers should try to match FS 14058 but a little darker.
A rare color slide taken inside a B-17B showing the port waist gun position. On the early Fortresses the gun positions were in bulged “teardrop” blisters, the guns pivoted and rotated within. On all Fortresses the after fuselage interior was specified to remain in natural aluminum.
The B-17C eliminated the teardrop waist gun fairings but the fuselage cutout shape was unchanged. Twenty B-17Cs were supplied to the Royal Air Force as the Fortress I. Here is a view of the Fortress I interior as an RAF gunner poses at the starboard waist gun. Note that the fuselage of the “shark fin” Forts is considerably smaller than the re-designed “E” model.
A nice view inside a B-17E looking aft towards the tail. The cylindrical object in the background is a chemical toilet. The crew access door is just visible on the starboard side. (Photograph by Frank Sherschel for LIFE Magazine)
A waist gunner in full flying gear. Flying at altitude required oxygen and an electrically-heated flying suit – hypothermia and hypoxia were potentially fatal. This gunner also wears an apron-style “flak jacket” to reduce injuries from shrapnel. The cramped quarters and precarious footing are obvious, there was little room to spare and the gunners got in each other’s way. Crews would often fly with only one of the two gunners, particularly later in the war.
Another view of the aft fuselage, this time looking forward. The waist gun positions on this Fortress are protected by armor plates which appear to have been primed. The guns are fed from plywood ammo containers, and additional ammo boxes are stowed on the floor on either side of the guns. In the background a crewman is making adjustments to the Sperry ball turret.
In the two previous photographs the crew had carried additional .50 caliber ammunition in boxes, and these boxes are commonly seen in or around operational aircraft. This is a nice color photograph of an ammo dump which shows the stenciling and variations in colors of these boxes. (LIFE Magazine photograph)
A B-17G Bombardier identified as Captain Bonnett poses at his station. The device leaning to the right is the control for the Bendix chin turret. Note the details of the seat and lap belt. There is no acoustical insulation installed on the sides of the nose compartment, the Alcoa sheet aluminum product stenciling is clearly visible.
The interior of a B-17G nose section looking aft. Plywood ammunition boxes for the cheek guns are to the left, the Bombardier’s control panel is to the right. The sides of the compartment are unpainted aluminum, but the rear bulkhead is covered with Olive Drab or Dark Green canvas, part of the acoustical batting to help reduce noise in the cockpit.
TSGT Robert Siavage poses in the Radio Compartment of his 306 Bomb Group B-17F. His .50 caliber gun is stowed overhead. This aircraft still retains the insulation in this compartment, although crews often removed this in the field.
A color shot of LT Bob Welty posing inside a B-17G after returning Stateside. This photograph is interesting as it shows the interior of a “Mickey” aircraft which carries an AN/APS-15 radar in place of the Sperry ball turret. These were used as pathfinders when the target was obscured by overcast. The receiver equipment was mounted in the Radio Compartment forward of the bulkhead.
Two photographs showing the color and stenciling of the seat cushions carried by B-17s and other U.S. aircraft. The cushions could also be used as flotation devices.