The Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber’s first flight was on 28th July 1935. In total, 12,731 units were built between 1936-1945! The nickname “Flying Fortress” was concocted by an American reporter, then the Boeing Company registered the name as a trademark.
The first 18 B-17E bombers arrived to equip the US 8th Air Force units in mid-1942 and flew their first mission against rail yards in occupied France on 17th August 1942. With the newly devised Norden Bombsight, this mission was much more successful than the British experience earlier in the European War.
The B-17 was a fast, high-flying, long-range bomber that was able to defend itself. It carried a superb bomb load and was able to return home despite extensive battle damage. Its reputation quickly took on mythic proportions, and widely circulated stories and photos of notable numbers and examples of B-17s surviving battle damage increased its iconic status – B-17 “fortress” fully deserved its nickname.
As of May 2015, ten aircraft remain airworthy. None of them are combat veterans. Additionally, a few dozen more are in storage or on static display. The oldest is a D-series combat veteran with service in the Pacific and the Caribbean.