Building the B-17 Flying Fortress

Published on
August 5, 2021
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Bill Yenne
Other Publication Information
Soft Square Bound, 8.5” x 11.25”, 240 pages (Excluding Covers), 344 black and white photographs, 39 color pictures, ten black and white illustrations, and eight color illustrations
Product / Stock #
Provided by: Specialty Press

Bill Yenne has authored over 75 historical books and ten novels to date. He grew up inside Montana's Glacier National Park where his father was the supervisor of backcountry trails. Bill is also a nationally recognized artist and illustrator with his work being showcased in many national magazines and some of his paintings on display in the official collection of the US Air Force. Bill graduated from the University of Montana in 1971 and founded the American Graphic Systems company. He later graduated from the Stanford University Professional Publishing course in 1989. The AGS BookWorks division has produced some 200 large-format, illustrated books. He has contributed to encyclopedias of World War I and II (for you young’ns, this was Wikipedia before the internet came along). He has appeared on The History Channel, the National Geographic Channel, the Smithsonian Channel, C-SPAN, and ARD German Television. Well known for his airpower focused books, Bill Yenne has been the recipient of the Air Force Association's Gill Robb Wilson Award for "...shaping how many people understand and appreciate airpower". You can find Bill Yenne on Facebook, , on LinkedIn, , and at . Bill now lives in San Francisco with his wife Carol where they raised two daughters, Azia and Annalisa.

Bill Yenne has had a long association with Boeing and the Flying Fortress and brings this new book on the Boeing Model 299. Bill Yenne covers the Model 299 from Boeing’s self-funded prototype that first flew on July 28, 1935, to the last of the 12,731 Flying Fortresses that were built. The bulk of the clear photographs are from the manufacturing lines and cover the developments and changes through the numerous production blocks. Coverage of all the changes to the exterior and interiors are detailed through the photographs. An excellent example is in the Page 33 photographs that depict the Model 299 nose turret, both as a bare frame mounted on a jig without the transparency, and as it was mounted on the Model 299, complete with transparencies.

The surprise driver, at least to me, is the vision that Boeing management developed to go from manufacturing a four-engine prototype and another dozen service evaluation aircraft to building over 400 Flying Fortresses a month. This in especially highlighted in the first person format when Boeing committed, at a great risk to the future of the company, the funds to manufacture the prototype for $275,000 ($5.3 M today). On top of that, an additional $150,000 of Boeing’s funds were committed as the design process went forward.

This square soft cover landscape book's cover features fuselage sections on the Vega production floor of Block 5 B-17G in 1943. The rear cover features two photos. Above is the formal rollout of the first B-17F on May 4, 11942 at the Vega factory in Burbank, California’ below is B-17F fuselage assembly at Boeing’s Plant 2. The first thing you will notice upon opening the book are the exceptionally clear photographs gracing nearly every glossy page. I counted 344 black and white photographs, 39 color pictures, ten black and white illustrations, and eight color illustrations.

The Chapters include:

  • Notes on Flying Fortress Designations
  • Notes on Nomenclature of US Military Organizations [Table]
  • Boeing Aircraft Company or Boeing Airplane Company?
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the Author
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Setting the Stage for the Flying Fortress
  • Chapter 2: Boeing of Seattle
  • Chapter 3: Enter the Boeing Model 299 [Page 033]
  • Chapter 4: The Life and Times of the B-17B
  • Chapter 5: The B-17C and B-17D: The Transitional Variants
    • Gathering Urgency for the B-17C
    • A Suddenly Expanding Aircraft Industry
    • Exporting Heavy Bombers
  • Chapter 6: The B-17E Brings Changes in Philosophy and Method
    • Aircraft Turret Development Though 1941 [Page 68]
    • The Sperry Ball Turret
    • The Tail Turret
    • B-17E Radar
    • B-17E Production and Facilities
    • Seattle Plant Expansion: 1941
    • The B-17E is Born into War
  • Chapter 7: The B-17F and Scaling Up for Production
    • The BDV Committee
    • The Block System
    • Early Block B-17s
    • Introducing the Modification Center Concept
    • Seattle Plant Expansion, 1942
    • Hidden in Plane Site
    • Enter the Superfortress
    • The Modification Centers in 1942 [Page 105]
    • Royal Air Force Fortresses
    • The Norden Bombsight
    • The Honeywell C-1 Autopilot
    • B-17F Radio Installations
    • The Vega XB-38 Flying Fortress
    • Tokyo Tanks and the Spring 1943 B-17F Blocks
    • External Bomb Racks
    • Seattle Plant Expansion: Early 1943
    • Middle Block B-17Fs [Page 140]
    • Later Block B-17Fs
  • Chapter 8: The B-17G: The Ultimate Flying Fortress
    • The Bendix Chin Turret
    • The XB-40/YB-40 Flying Fortress
    • Beginning B-17G Blocks
    • Plywood in Flight
    • The Modification Centers in 1943
    • Late 1943 B-17G Electronics Systems
    • H2X (AN/APS-15) Radar
    • Seattle Plant Expansion: 1943 into 1944
    • B-17G Blocks of Early 1944
    • Boeing’s Final Flying Fortress Order
    • Gun Position Changes, Waist, Tail and Cheeks
    • The Cheyenne Tail Turret [Page 179]
    • Subtle Variations and the B-17G Blocks of Mid-1944
    • Highlights of 1944 B-17G Electronics Systems
    • Boeing B-17G Block 80 and Contemporaries
    • Into the Fall of 1944
    • The Final B-17G Blocks of 1944
    • The Modification Centers in 1944
    • The F-9 “Foto” Flying Fortress
    • Early 1945 B-17G Blocks
    • Boeing B-17G Block 110
    • US Navy Flying Fortresses
    • The B-17H and Other Variants
    • Winding Down the Modification Centers in 1945
    • Final B-17G Blocks and Concluding Deliveries
    • From Arsenal of Democracy to Desert Boneyards
    • From Factory Expansion to Disposition of Facilities
    • The Last Factories Fade Away
  • Appendix I: Diagrams and Cutaway Drawings [Page 230]
  • Appendix II: All Flying Fortresses by Variant and Block

There are a lot of sections that I found quite revealing, like the section on wooing back the Boeing president from 1933 to 1939, Philip “Phil” Gustav Johnson. Phil Johnson was considered a genius in organizing mass production. One of the major outcomes of the 1938 Munich Conference was that America was woefully behind in recognizing the need for airpower. The day after the Conference, General George Marshall and his friend, General Hap Arnold, would formally command the US Army Air Corps, reporting to President Roosevelt. The flood gates for air power had opened. President Roosevelt mentioned the need for 15,000 aircraft, when the Air Corps consisted of some 2,230 ostensibly available. Those in power in Washington D.C. considered this to be irresponsible, but the dice had been cast. Boeing’s corporate attorney. Bill Allen, recognizing at what was soon to happen, convinced Claire Egtvedt to bring back Phil Johnson. Bill Allen’s proposal surprised Claire Egtvedt, but he quickly came around to supporting the concept. Phil Johnson was close to retirement, but he saw the winds of war and accepted the offer to return to Boeing as its president. Claire Egtvedt moved on to be Boeing’s chairman of the board. The next step was for Boeing to expand manufacturing capacity. Bill Allen and Phil Johnson traveled to Washington D.C. to secure Federal loans to expand Boeing’s manufacturing capacity. When Hitler rolled into the Netherlands, President Roosevelt went to Congress for funding for 50,000 aircraft.

Like many aviation enthusiasts, I have read many books on the Flying Fortress over the last five decades. This was the first book that I can remember reading that actually addressed the B-17 from a block by block development and the manufacturing capabilities that were required to build the thousands of aircraft in World War Two. The modeler is extremely well served with the glossy clear photographs that provide a wealth of detail for all the variants. I really appreciated Bill Yenne's book and his ability to weave in all the factors that came together to make the Boeing B-17 a success story. This should be an essential tome in any aviation library.

My thanks to Specialty Press and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.

Highly recommended!


Add new comment

All comments are moderated to prevent spam

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.