573 Magazine Nov 2016 - Page 44

There are only ten B-17Gs left that are still flying.  Man to get to ride in it was a dream of a lifetime and better yet, I got to ride in the nose of the aircraft in the bombardier seat hanging out over literally nothing but down.  Once the 4 engine fired up, accompanied by the defying sound and vibrations, it was easy to let my thoughts wander.  All I kept thinking is those young guys certainly had some guts.  The idea of getting into this thin skinned thing, filled with bombs, while a pile of lunatics fired at you is mind blowing to say the least.   The first thing you notice when you climb into a B-17 is how small and primitive everything is.  The most frightening thing is the realization that even th ough it was known as the Flying Fortress, it has very little protection outside of all the manned machine guns on board.  The haul was actually only 1/32nd inch thick aluminum.  You can easily punch a hole in the aircraft with a screwdriver, let alone sharp flak or the standard Nazi 30mm cannon round -both of which cut through the B-17 like butter.  There were 13,000 made and more than 8000 were lost in combat.  Not great odds for the 10 person crews required to make 25 missions in a tour of duty.  The average airman only had a 1-in-4 chance of surviving the war.  The average life expectancy of a B-17 crew member was 12 missions.