IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST
A tour of the B-17 Bomber "Aluminum Overcast"
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This fully restored Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress named "Aluminum Overcast" was built in 1945 and is now owned and operated by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The EAA tours the aircraft throughout the United States and offers rides at selected airports.
In September of 2006 the "Aluminum Overcast" visited the Clark County Airport in Clarksville, Indiana. Although I did not get to take a ride on this visit, I thought I would share my photos of this fantastic aircraft.
The name "Aluminum Overcast" and the plane's colors commemorates B-17G #42-102515 of the 398th Bomb Group of World War II which was shot down on its 34th combat mission over Le Manior, France, on August 13, 1944. The 398th Bomb Group flew hundreds of missions over Nazi-held territory during WW II. Veterans of the 398th helped finance the bomber's restoration.
"Aluminum Overcast" is one of only about a dozen B-17 Flying Fortresses still flying. 12,732 of the planes were built with production peaking at 16 planes per day during the war in 1944. This plane, model B-17G-VE, serial number 44-85740, was delivered to U.S. Army Air Corps on May 18, 1945 too late to see any action during the war. It was sold as military surplus in 1946 for $750. Since then, it has flown over over one million miles serving as a cargo hauler, an aerial mapping platform and in pest control and forest dusting applications.
The plane was purchased in 1978 by a group of investors who wished to preserve the heritage of the B-17. They later donated the aircraft to the EAA in 1983. The EAA spent over 10 years restoring the aircrafts and refitting it with it's original military equipment.
This massive aircraft weighs 34,000 ponds empty and has a wingspan of 103 feet 9 inches. It is 74 feet long and stands 19 feet high.
She is powered by four massive 1,200 horsepower Wright Cyclone R-1829-97 radial nine-cylinder air cooled engines with three-bladed propellers 11 feet, 7 inches in diameter.
With her standard fuel capacity of 1,700 gallons, she has a range of 1,850 miles but the range could be double when equipped with external "Tokyo Tanks" increasing fuel capacity to 3,630 gallons. Maximum speed is 300 MPH at 30,000 feet with a service ceiling of 35,600 feet.
Built as a long range bomber, the B-17 Flying Fortress was heavily armed with 13 Browning M-2 .50 caliber machine guns to ward off fighter planes that might be trying to shoot her down. Machines guns were located in the nose, tail, on either side mid-ship, on top and on the bottom in the infamous belly turret.
The belly turret was a rotating turret hanging below the aircraft to protect against attacks from below. The gunner was cramped into the tiny ball in a reclining position.
Let's take a look inside.
The B-17 Flying Fortress had a crew of 10: Pilot, Co-Pilot, Navigator, Bombardier, Flight Engineer (Top Turret Gunner), Radio Operator, 2 Waist Gunners, Tail Gunner and Belly Turret Gunner.
Below and forward of the cockpit is the bombardier and nose gunner position.
Looking rearward from the cockpit, we next come to the bomb bay. The B-17 could carry a normal load of 8,000 pounds of bombs. However, when fitted with special external racks, the maximum short-range bomb load could go as high as 17,600 pounds.
A narrow catwalk extends through the bomb bay to the plane's midsection. The must be an exciting walk when the bomb bay doors are open.
Exiting the bomb bay and continuing rearward, we next come to the navigator and radio operators positions in the plane's midsection.
Continuing rearward we come to the midsection. Here, there are gunner positions on either side of the aircraft, a few luxurious passenger seats and the belly turret.
The top side of the belly turret
Looking forward from the midsection.
Notice the chain feed ammo belts for the .50 caliber machine guns. The Browning M-2 machine guns had a rate of fire of about 13 rounds per second and no gun on the B-17 carried more than one minute's supply of ammunition. The optical sights on the guns had controls to adjust to "leading" the shots on enemy aircraft.
Looking further rearward we see a couple more passenger seats, the main cargo bay door and, in the distance, the tail gunner position.
The tail gunner position.
Built in 1946, this is not a high tech fly-by-wire aircraft by today's standards. Exposed steel control cables run the length of the aircraft connecting the pilots controls to the elevators and ailerons on the wings.
I hope you enjoyed the tour as much as I did. You can see more of the "Aluminum Overcast" and check her schedule of appearances at the website www.b17.org.
Here are a few shots of another B-17 that I visited a few years earlier.
If you ran out of ammunition and all else fails, there is always one last resort....