Here are some nice color shots of the interior of a Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress showing aircrew at their positions. These are of the thirteenth B-17E produced, serial 41-2405 with the Sperry remote turret in the ventral position. The pictures were taken by famed aviation photographer Rudy Arnold on 25JUN42.
A couple of notes. While the descriptions associated with the negatives in the NASM archive all describe the aircraft as being 41-2405, there are a few photographs in the series which are obviously of other Fortresses, so take that identification with a grain of salt on the interior pictures. Several of the negatives in the collection have water damage so if you notice unexpected color shift or mottling it is possibly a defect on the negative.
All photographs credit National Air and Space Museum Archives, Rudy Arnold Photo Collection unless otherwise noted.
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:
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.
The cockpit area should be Bronze Green (FS 14058 but a little darker) or Dull Dark Green (FS 34092).
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.
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.
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.
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.