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.

The Boeing B-17E and the Myth of the Bendix Ventral Turret

If you are planning to model one of the Hawaiian Air Depot scheme Boeing B-17E Flying Fortresses, or any one of the first 112 B-17Es produced for that matter, something which will have to be dealt with is the belly turret. Model kits contain the manned Sperry ball turret, but the remote Bendix turret is needed. At least that is the conventional wisdom. In this case it turns out the conventional wisdom has gotten it all wrong. Not only is the Sperry ball turret appropriate in some cases, the B-17E never carried the Bendix remote turret in the first place.

Unfortunately, almost every reference will state that the early B-17E Flying Fortress carried a Bendix belly turret, and almost every reference gets it wrong. The first B-17Es were not built with a Bendix remote turret, but a Sperry model 645705-D remote turret instead. From the B-17E Erection and Maintenance Manual 01-20EE-2:

“(4) BOTTOM TURRET – The bottom turret is installed in the rear fuselage section just aft of the radio compartment. Two installations are provided as follows:

“(a) On airplanes AC serial numbers 41-2393 to 41-2504 inclusive, the Sperry number 645705-D remote sighted twin .50-caliber bottom turret is installed. The sighting station for this turret is installed directly to the rear, and is operated from the prone position with the gunner heading aft. Ammunition boxes for 500 rounds per gun are attached to the turret. Provision has been made on these airplanes for interchangeability with the spherical turret.

“(b) On airplanes, serial numbers AC 41-2505 to 41-2669, inclusive, and AC 41-9011 to 41-9245 inclusive the Sperry number 645849-J spherical bottom turret is installed. On these airplanes no provision is made for interchangeablitity with the remote-sighted gun. Ammunition boxes for 500 rounds per gun are installed within the turret.”

The difference is not merely semantics or nomenclature, the two turrets are unrelated. The Bendix remote turret was retractable, and its sighting aperture was located on the mount itself between the guns. Bendix turrets were carried by the B-25B through the first part of the B-25G production runs, but were discontinued midway through the G model. They were also carried by the B-24D. Later, the Bendix design was modified and appeared as the chin armament on the experimental YB-40 gunship. It was standardized as B-17F nose armament late in B-17F production and carried on all B-17Gs.

The Sperry number 645705-D was also remotely sighted, but the sighting periscope was located aft of the turret in a clear blister. The gunner was also provided with six small scanning windows, two square windows on the underside of the fuselage, and two rectangular windows on each fuselage side. The Sperry remote ventral turret was constructed using the same structural elements as the manned Sperry dorsal turret but without the clear perspex panels.

Neither remote turret was successful. Crews reported difficulty in acquiring and sighting their targets. Mechanical reliability was also an issue. Gunners using the Sperry remote turret often became nauseous due to having to lay prone facing aft to use the sight. Many crews decided the turret was not worth the weight and deleted it entirely or replaced it with the manned Sperry ball turret at the first opportunity. No kills were recorded by gunners using the Sperry remote turret.

An early production B-17E with a Sperry model 645705-D remote turret installed. The sighting periscope is visible in the blister aft of the turret, and the gunner’s scanning windows are visible on the fuselage sides.
Another nice shot showing the Sperry remote turret installation. The remote belly turret was produced using the same structural elements of the manned engineer’s Sperry dorsal turret, in this picture it is possible to compare the shapes of the two directly.
Close up of the Sperry remote turret. Spent shell casings were ejected through the rectangular opening visible between the guns. No windows are present on this turret.
A Boeing factory photograph showing the aft fuselage compartment looking forward.  The remote turret housing is the round object mounted to the floor, the gunner’s sighting arrangement is visible in the foreground of the picture.  The gunner’s scanning windows are located just above the walkways on either side.  To use the remote turret the gunner was required to lay facing aft between the feet of the waist gunners, a problematic arrangement for all concerned!
Here is the Bendix retractable remote turret from the B-25C/D Factory manual. Note the different shape of the turret, and the windows for the sight and the elevation compensator located on the turret itself.
Kora from the Czech Republic produce several conversion sets containing Sperry remote turrets in 1/72 scale, although they too call them Bendix. Many of the resin bits are interior details. This particular set also contains PE aerials for the SCR-521/ASV search radar.
A close up of the turret and sighting blister parts from the Kora set. Modelers could fashion the turret using a spare ventral turret by sanding off the panels and adding an ejector chute. The blister would have to be vacuformed. Scanning windows must be cut into the fuselage sides by the modeler.
Here is a screen capture from John Ford’s film “The Battle of Midway” showing 41-2397 in the Hawaiian Air Depot scheme with the Sperry remote belly turret in June of 1942. This aircraft was named “JOE BFTSPLK” after a popular comic strip character, but it is unclear exactly when the name was applied.
Here is 41-2397 again, this time being serviced on Espiritu Santo in December 1942 just six months later. Note that she has now been refitted with a manned Sperry ball turret. B-17Es were designed so that the remote turret could be replaced with a ball turret, but not the other way around. (Ralph Morse photograph)
Another still from Ford’s film and another HAD ship, 41-2437 with a Sperry remote turret on Midway. On 06MAY42 ALNAV 97 directed that the red and white tail stripes and red centers of US national markings be painted out to avoid any confusion with the red Japanese Hinomaru markings. On 41-2437 the rudder appears to have been painted over using black paint.
Here is 41-2437 six months later refitted with a Sperry ball turret and still wearing her Hawaiian Air Depot scheme. She also carries twin .50s in the radio operator’s position. B-17s with the manned ball turret are often seen airborne with the guns pointed directly down. In this position the gunner’s access door would open into the fuselage, allowing the gunner to leave the cramped turret and move about the aircraft. (Ralph Morse photograph)
A nice shot of 41-2444 on Espiritu Santo in DEC42. She has been refitted with a manned Sperry ball turret and the remote sighting blister has been removed, but the side scanning windows remain. (Ralph Morse photograph)
Some crews removed the ineffective remote turret and made do with what they could improvise. The crew of 41-2432 has mounted twin .50s on a flexible mount in the fuselage opening. This provides another option for modelers who don’t want to be troubled with the turret issue. Note the replacement vertical stabilizer which dates the photograph as being taken after SEP42. 41-2432 carried pin-up nose art and was named “The Last Straw”.  (Australian War Memorial photograph)