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41-9112

B-17 Flying Fortress

Delivered Geiger 419BS/301BG 20/4/42; experimental armament equipment installed at Bovingdon; never involved in combat; Returned to the USA 14/2/43 for Project Reed; Reconstruction Finance Corporation (sold for scrap metal in USA) Kingman 7/10/46. DREAMBOAT.

Though the B-17 was one of the war’s outstanding bombers, when it began flying combat missions over Europe in late 1942, its first encounters with Luftwaffe fighters made it seem anything but a “flying fortress.”

The most common complaint was the limited, hand-held forward firing armament, which the German fighters exploited with head-on attacks. Other complaints were with tail heaviness, which made it tiring to fly in tight formation, poorly organised crew positions and a flawed oxygen supply system.

One of the 8th Air Force’s engineering officers, Maj. Robert J. Reed, was given the task of solving the problems, and in a few months he came up with a long list of suggested improvements for the B-17. The changes were beyond the capability of the U.S. depots in England to make, so the 8th Bomber Command gave Major Reed a B-17E and sent him back to Wright Field, Ohio, to make the modifications.

Major Reed’s changes were radical, especially in armament. He took the nose and tail power-operated turrets from a B-24 Liberator and mounted them on the B-17, where they provided much more firepower and better armour protection. The tail turret had a field of fire about six times greater than the original B-17 turret.

Since the nose was now taken up by the turret, the bombardier was moved to an under nose gondola, which provided such excellent visibility that he acted as the navigator too, reducing the number of crew members from 10 to nine.

The radio operator and his equipment were moved from the middle of the aircraft forward to a compartment next to the bombardier gondola, making it possible for them to communicate if the inter phone was shot out. More importantly, this moved the center of gravity forward and eliminated the tail heaviness. As an added benefit, this required a longer antenna wire, which provided a stronger signal.

The dorsal and ball turrets were replaced with lighter, roomier and better armored models, and the two waist gun positions were removed and replaced by a power boosted twin .50 machine gun mounted on top of the fuselage just above the old waist gun positions. It required only a single gunner, so the number of crew members was further reduced to eight.

The “barn door” type bomb bay doors were replaced with folding doors that extended only 8 inches into the slip stream. This cut drag during the bomb run and provided a tactical advantage, since the folding bomb bay doors were invisible from a distance. This meant that open bomb bay doors would not alert German fighters when the bomb run was beginning and the bombers could not maneuver. The oxygen system was redesigned so each crew member had double lines so if one was cut he would still receive a half supply.

The final results for the “Dreamboat,” as the project was nicknamed, were weight reduction of more than 1,000 pounds, the center of gravity moved forward to a nearly ideal point, all the manually operated machine guns were replaced with power operated weapons, and two crew members were eliminated. Speed and altitude performance remained the same because the drag of the bombardier’s “gondola” offset the reduced weight and improved the center of gravity.

When Major Reed brought the “Dreamboat” back to England in September 1943, it was well received. The formation flying characteristics were vastly improved, and the folding bomb bay doors and new oxygen system, seemingly minor points, were praised by the crews flying daily combat over Germany. The main complaint was the concentration of all the key crew members in the nose where they could be taken out with a single cannon shell.

Despite the improvements, incorporating the changes into the B-17 production line would have resulted in unacceptable delays for retooling and they were too extensive to be done in England, so Major Reed’s “Dreamboat” remained an object of curiosity in various depots for the rest of the war. The project was not, however, for naught. Many of Major Reed’s changes were incorporated in the new Boeing B-29 Superfortress and Convair B-32 Dominator, which were in their initial test stages and were to replace the B-17."

by Dr. Marshall Michel [86th Airlift Wing historian]

Service

Units

  • 301st Bomb Group

    301st Bomb Group

    Group
    Activated 3-February-1942 at Geiger Field, Washington and equipped with B-17s. On 27-May-1942 the ground unit moved to Alamogordo Army Air Field, New Mexico, and the aircraft went to Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base), California for...

  • 419th Bomb Squadron

Places

  • Bovingdon

    Military site : airfield
    Bovingdon, in Hertfordshire (often confused with Bovington, Dorset), was built in 1941-42 as a bomber station but was never developed into a fully-fledged heavy bomber airfield as it did not have the required 2,000 yard runway. ...

Events

Event Location Date
Manufactured Long Beach, CA 1942

Built at Boeing.

Delivered Geiger AAF, WA 20 April 1942

Delivered Geiger 419BS, 301BG 20-Apr-42.

Returned USA Wright Field, USA 14 February 1943 – September 1943

Returned to USA for experimental armament installation.

Returned ETO England September 1943

Returned to ETO.

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
28 November 2019 16:40:13 Emily Changes to nicknames and unit associations
Sources

Freeman, Mighty Eighth War Manual, p 155-156

Date Contributor Update
19 August 2019 16:45:09 Al_Skiff Changes to production block number, manufacturer, nicknames, description, events and unit associations
Sources

https://b17flyingfortress.de/en/b17/41-9112-dreamboat/
Aircraft of the 8th AAF 1942-1945 By Kev Darling
https://1000aircraftphotos.com/Contributions/KleinBernhard/6206.htm
http://92ndma.org/92nd/92ndB-17AircraftRoster.pdf

Date Contributor Update
01 June 2016 20:56:15 Pete Changes to nicknames
Sources

452nd Bomb Group Assoc.

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:40:07 AAM AAM ingest
Sources

Dave Osborne, B-17 Fortress Master Log

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