Of the 12,732 B-17s Flying Fortresses produced through World War II, 4,735 were lost during combat missions. Today only about 15 are airworthy.
Almost everyone who served in bombers during that time has flown in a B-17. The aircraft launched the U.S. bombing campaign against Germany from bases in Britain, concentrating on dangerous daytime missions while the British Royal Air Force bombed at night, and casualties were heavy.
B-17s from the Eighth Air Force often flew missions of eight hours and more, striking deep at targets deep within enemy territory. Because of their long-range capability, formations of B-17s often flew into battle with no fighter escort, relying on their own defensive capabilities to insure a successful mission.
Following WWII, most B-17s were cut up for scrap, used in Air Force research or sold on the surplus market for purposes such as fighting forest fires.
With its 13 .50-caliber machine guns in the chin, top, ball, and tail turrets, and waist and cheek guns, the B-17G was the most heavily armed of the variants. It had a crew of 10, and could carry up to 8,000 lb of bombs on short missions, or 4,500 lb at extreme range.
The Experimental Aircraft Association owns and operates a 1945 B-17G Flying Fortress painted as “Aluminum Overcast” which tours the U.S. selling rides. Aviation Week editor John Morris experienced the adventure at EAA AirVenture as a guest of Phillips 66 Aviation.