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Today in World War II History

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The B-17 Flying Fortress, Part 1

B-17G Flying Fortress Shoo Shoo Baby of the 91st Bomb Group (USAF Museum)

B-17G Flying Fortress Shoo Shoo Baby of the 91st Bomb Group (USAF Museum)

Few World War II airplanes have captured the imagination like the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. I’ve enjoyed walking through many of these planes, and in 2011 I had the awesome privilege of flying in the Experimental Aircraft Association‘s Aluminum Overcast. You can read about my flight and watch a video here.
The legendary Flying Fortress is a starring side character in my Wings of Glory series. Today I’ll talk about the plane and tomorrow about the crew.
The Wings of Glory series by Sarah Sundin

The Wings of Glory series by Sarah Sundin


In 1935, the US Army called for a multi-engine, long-range, high-altitude heavy bomber. On July 17, 1935, Boeing introduced Model 299, which made its maiden flight on July 28, exceeding Army specifications. With plenty of machine guns, it was dubbed the “Flying Fortress” by a reporter. Although Model 299 crashed on an early flight, Boeing received a contract to develop the YB-17 in 1936.

Wreck of B-17C bomber at Hickam Field, Territory of Hawaii, 7 Dec 1941 (US National Archives)

Wreck of B-17C bomber at Hickam Field, Territory of Hawaii, 7 Dec 1941 (US National Archives)

Improvements were made with each successive model – the B-17B in October 1939, the B-17C in July 1940, and the B-17D in February 1941. The C and D models were involved in America’s entry into World War II – shot up on the ground in Hawaii and the Philippines and flying early bombing missions. Since a squadron of twelve B-17Ds was expected in Pearl Harbor early on December 7, 1941, when radar showed the approaching Japanese planes, the officer in charge dismissed the warning. Read the story here.

Combat Models

The B-17E rolled out in September 1941, the first model to sport the distinctive bell-shaped vertical stabilizer (tail fin). This model was used in the Eighth Air Force’s first combat missions over Nazi-occupied Europe in late 1942. Further refinements led to the F model in August 1942. One of the most famous B-17Fs was the Memphis Belle, the first plane and crew to finish 25 missions in Europe.

Boeing B-17E in flight, 1942. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-17E in flight, 1942. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Since no one expected dangerous head-on fighter attacks, the F model had weaker .30 caliber guns in the nose rather than the .50 caliber guns used in the rest of the plane. In addition, the nose guns could not be trained to twelve o’clock. The Luftwaffe quickly discovered this deficiency and adopted head-on attacks with devastating results to the Eighth Air Force. Desperation and ingenuity led airmen to shatter holes in the nose of the plane and suspend a .50 caliber gun with racks and retractable cords. Later B-17Fs incorporated a factory-installed .50 caliber nose gun and eventually a chin turret with two .50 caliber guns.

B-17 Memphis Belle and her crew, May 1943 (USAF Photo)

B-17 Memphis Belle and her crew, May 1943 (USAF Photo)

The last and most common model, the B-17G, entered combat in September 1943, but further refinements were made throughout the war.


With a wing span of 103 feet and a length of 74 feet, the B-17G cut a graceful figure. Powered by four Wright R-1820 Cyclone engines, it could carry a crew of ten and a bomb load of up to 8000 pounds (but less on long-distance missions). The B-17G had a top speed of 302 mph and a ceiling of 36,400 feet. Depending on the model and theater of operations, B-17s carried ten to thirteen machine guns.

The B-17 was the first plane to use turbo-superchargers, which boosted engine performance at high altitude. The plane also featured the Norden bombsight, a complicated piece of machinery that allowed the bombardier to compensate for airspeed, wind speed, and drift when bombing. Purported to drop a bomb in a pickle-barrel, the Norden never reached that accuracy in combat, but did allow successful high-altitude, daylight strategic bombing.

89 responses to “The B-17 Flying Fortress, Part 1”

  1. Michele says:

    I so enjoy the way you bring history to life!

    • Marion Slater says:

      I love reading your books because I grew up during the war and had two uncles at D-Day but they never talked about it. You do such thorough research that it is like being there. My only problem is that I read the book in one day and then have to wait a year for the next one. Please keep writing!

      • Jamie Mallard says:

        Your first book was so good that we’ve purchased every book since. My husband enjoys them too. I hope to listen to the audio versions someday.

  2. Kailey Bechtel says:

    Great post! It was so interesting!

  3. Rick Barry says:

    I’m officially entering for a crack at an audio copy. That sure would be swell!

  4. Dana McNeely says:

    I love audiobooks as well as this period of history. Please toss my name in the hat.

  5. Abigail Allen says:

    I love your books! I’m a big history fan and read extensively.

  6. Lynne Marschke says:

    I have given your books as gifts several times. We have a vacation rental house with a library shelf & I always make sure one of your books is on the shelf. I would enjoy the audio book! Thank you Sarah, God bless.

  7. Landry Mely says:

    This is my favorite trilogy of all your books!

  8. DebbieTroxell says:

    How exciting! I don’t have any audio books yet. Yours should be my first one!

  9. Sue Riggio says:

    A Distant Melody was one of my favorites. It sits proudly on my bookshelf with the entire series. I’d love to hear the audio version ?

  10. April says:

    Great post! The B-17 is one of my son’s favorite planes.

  11. Sara says:

    So much history, I had no idea. Thank you for sharing

  12. Lorie Kurt, says:

    This is wonderful, Sarah! One day all of your books will be on audible. We are blessed that you share your beautiful stories with us.

  13. Susan Newcomb says:

    I just love the Novak brothers! Walt and Allie are such a sweet couple.
    Please enter me in the giveaway
    This is so exciting that they are coming out in audio

  14. Jennifer Kennedy says:

    I want to win! I love your books!!

  15. Amberle says:

    I am so excited about the audiobook! That is my favorite way to reread books.

  16. Rachel Ervin says:

    I am so excited for your books to be in audio form!!! I have been waiting and hoping for this. I love your books

  17. Elodie Conrad says:

    Such fascinating history behind the book, really appreciate all the time you take to research! It certainly brings the story to life. Really enjoyed this, as my first book of yours and now am reading through all the books. Definately recommend to everyone who will listen 🙂 not sure if I can enter being in Australia…

  18. Lucinda Hyatt says:

    Sarah, thank you for the opportunity. Please toss my name in the ring!

  19. Perrianne Askew says:

    I imagine this would be pretty incredible in audio! I had a great uncle who flew bombing runs during WWII, so this is interesting to me.

  20. Sarah, I just read this book for the second time and enjoyed all historical detail as well as the realities of World War II rationing here in America. Allie was a strong lady to obey God and put Him first. It was a joy to watch her and Walt grow throughout the book.

    Congratulations! I am thrilled that this book and the entire series will be on audio.

  21. Myra says:

    I’m traveling this and next weekend and would love to win this to listen to! ❤️

  22. Rebecca L says:

    I have enjoyed finding and reading your books. I have received The Land Beneath Us for my birthday. I’m looking forward to reading it and finishing (?) the Paxtons story.

  23. Donna Irvin says:

    So much history. I was stationed at Travis Air Force Base in the 1980’s. Had a great big air museum. I have visited the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola also, and the World War II museum in New Orleans, (I cried the entire day) I love World War II stories, and all my veteran friends of all ages.

  24. Deborah Cooney says:

    What can I say that hasn’t been said by all the others? Love all your books! Have read each series many times over and loaned them out so many times. The audiobook would be a great addition to my library and something to look forward to while driving on vacation this summer!

  25. Lisa D says:

    I would love to listen to this audiobook!

  26. Corinne R says:

    Thanks for the opportunity! I loved this series and would welcome the chance to revisit it through audiobook!

  27. Margaret Wurth says:

    Love to read thank you

  28. Jeslyn Jackson says:

    Wings of Glory series is my favorite. Your research on the operation of the B-17 was so apparent when you described each detail in the air strike scenes. Your description was so vivid, I felt like I was sitting in the cockpit!

  29. Veronica says:

    Very cool! Congratulations!

  30. Michelle Van Patten says:

    I’m so glad more of your books are becoming available in the audio format! Thank you for the chance to win one. 🙂

  31. Kara says:

    This has been my favorite set of yours. I introduced it to some other book loving friends that also fell head over heels for your writing. I was just thinking that I should pick this series up again to reread during my summer break. Thank you for being this period in history to life and for your thorough research.

  32. Jennifer K says:

    I haven’t read this book yet, but I’d love to give it a listen!!

  33. Angie Cockroft says:

    I just discovered my love for audiobooks! Would love to listen to yours. Thank you so much!!

  34. Ashley says:

    A Distant Melody is my favorite book in the series. I enjoyed getting to know Walt and Ally, and could relate to both of them.
    I also enjoyed the blog post about the history of the B-17. It is one of the WW2 planes I would like to fly in; the other is the Supermarine Spitfire.

  35. Rebekah Miller says:

    I love all of this history!!!

  36. Shyrel O'Neal says:

    I finished two of your books int the past two weeks. Excited for the audio

  37. Suzi Ronning says:

    I greatly enjoy reading WWII fiction. Just found out about you and your books and I’m excited my next book to start reading will be The Sea Before Us which I just purchased this weekend! And, audio books are my favorite because I can listen while I commute.

  38. Kelly Borchelt says:

    I would live this! I dont always get to read a book so if I had it to listen to I would enjoy it so much!! I love the book too!

  39. Sharon torchio says:

    I so enjoyed getting to know you through your Sunrise at Normandy series … my friend Kit introduced me to you books… love to listen to books while driving or working……
    Thank you so much for teaching history through your books.

  40. Deborah Sherman says:

    Love your books. Excited about the audio version.

  41. Lynne M Feuerstein says:

    Thank you for this great post and giveaway! So love your stories and your attention to historical detail. I didn’t realize the fascinating history behind the B-17’s and love how you made it a side character in A Distant Melody.Will be looking foward to the audibook. 🙂

  42. Jenni says:

    My friend recommended your books to me. I trust her recommendations. I listen to audiobooks to and from work so it would be fun to win. Thanks for the opportunity.

  43. Linda G. Ring says:

    What a beautiful gift our Lord has given you! Thank You for sharing it with us! All of your books are favorites for me I’m drawn to both WWs, nursing and pilots. I suppose it’s because I had close family in the wars, my brother was a pilot and I’m a nurse.
    Please, know that you are appreciated and prayers are offered up for you.

  44. Roxanna Conner says:

    I love the pictures of the B-17s, we have been to many shows and walked through the Nine O’ Nine ourselves. We were sad when she crashed last year. I love your books, I learn so much (which makes me feel smart when talking to my WWII buff husband).

  45. Gerri Hilger says:

    Thanks for the informative post. My uncle flew 42 missions in the B-17. Not sure if it was D or E model. Just finished SUNRISE IN NORMANDY series. Thanks for using your gifts to help us all appreciate the sacrifice and ingenuity of all those involved with WW II.

  46. Lydia Hinkle says:

    Awesome opportunity! Thank you!

  47. Debbi Lawson says:

    Growing up in Marin County, I spent a lot of time at Hamilton AFB exploring the different planes that were flown during the war. My dad and his mom lived in Bolinas and went up into the hills overlooking the Pacific to spot for enemy planes, so he knew all the planes by not only their physical specs but also by their sound. My mom used to lay in the alfalfa and watch the B-17’s and the smaller fighter planes fly over on their way to the Pacific. They were so low and close that she and the flight crew would wave to each other. Thanks for keeping the history (including local history) of the war years alive…we must never forget the sacrifices our men made!!

  48. Beth Ervin says:

    I love Sarah’s books! I would love to have the audiobooks to listen to on my commute to and from work. Being a mom of three and a nurse that works full time, my commute seems like my only time I have to “read!”

  49. Jamie Mallard says:

    Your first book was so good that we’ve purchased every book since. My husband enjoys them too. I’m looking forward to audio versions of all your books so I can find more time for “reading.”

  50. Kathy L Jaberg says:

    To hear one of these aircraft flying overhead is awesome.

  51. Mimi says:

    Well that was quite a plane! I loved their ingenuity with them suspending a .50 caliber gun with racks and retractable cords. Glad the factory got around to installing them though!

  52. Amanda says:

    I am thrilled this book is on audio now. I hope the other two in the series are coming soon. They’re my favorites! I’ve got a soft spot for the B-17 after reading this, with a picture of the one at Planes of Fame in Chino in my kitchen.

  53. Judy grogan says:

    Very interesting. My father was Kia as a B-17 bombardier in 1944

  54. Tami says:

    Wow, so much interesting information on the planes. I apprecate all the time you put in for research. It always makes for great reading!

  55. Alyssa says:

    Man, those planes were BIG! I’m going to go follow the link for your flight in one!

  56. Olivia says:

    Delightful book and information!!!

  57. Natalya Lakhno says:

    History is fascinating!
    Thank you for sharing!

  58. Alison Boss says:

    Thank you, Sarah, for sharing the interesting history of the Boeing B-17. Historical Christian fiction is my favorite genre to read. Congratulations on
    A Distant Melody releasing as an audio book, and thank you for the chance to win a copy of it!!!

  59. Janet Brantley says:

    I enjoy your books, and I do a lot of driving and listening in the car, so I’d love the chance to have one of your books on audio.

  60. Judi Imperato says:

    Great article on the B-17’s, thank you for the opportunity to win an audio book of “A Distant Melody”.

  61. Beverly Laude says:

    Would love to listen to this book!

  62. Jeanie M Dannheim says:

    Thanks for the chance to win and this great article! I do like audiobooks and reading Christian WWII fiction. Congrats on getting this series out in audio!

  63. Gail Hollingsworth says:

    Love these WWII novels.

  64. Linda Durham says:

    Thank you for your blog and video of your B17 flight as well as sharing your research of WWI and WWII. I watched all the movies on tv about both wars and wondered how the crews were able to fly those planes, shoot from the various turrets and drop bombs someone with claustrophobia would have a problem. I admire and thank them for their courage and honor!.

  65. bn100 says:

    interesting info

  66. Brenda Witt says:

    Sarah, I loved reading the history behind the war years, not just the men, but the women also. I read the other two books in the series.
    Thank you for the chance

  67. Nora Bryant says:

    Love reading your books. Rereading through too. Audio is great on those long drives.

  68. debra Lindquist says:

    I just love your WW novels!

  69. Thank you for writing WWII romance! Hopefully there are more to come for a long time.

  70. Mishael says:

    I love that you’re getting more audiobooks! I absolutely love listening to your books, and love all the history I learn

  71. Heather Poff says:

    I love love love all of your books! Thank you for all the time and care you put into each book to make it so historically accurate as well as so absolutely engaging to read. I always feel as if I am a part of the story. I think this series is one of my favorites if only because it was one of the first that I read of yours, and then I kept watch for any and all books to come out next! Please keep writing!! We will all keep reading!

  72. Carol Lee Edwards says:

    I love learning about history through books.

  73. Cathy Purdue says:

    Love your books! Haven’t read this one so I’m excited about the audio version. I have moved more toward audiobooks because of a long work commute.

  74. Jenn says:

    I love your latest series and would love one of the earlier books especially in audiobook.

  75. Nola says:

    I’ve listened and read from two different series of yours now. Both very enjoyable. I can’t wait to get started on the next

  76. Donna Harmon says:

    I love your books and audiobooks are my favorites!

  77. Ruthie Venier says:

    Would love to listen to your book. Thank you for all the history.

  78. Roberta Taylor says:

    I would be a new reader to your books if I win the audiobook

  79. Rose Blackard says:

    I am thrilled that you are adding audio books. I love them. Your books are great, You have such a gift for history. I love the ones from World war II, because my dad fought in that war. So it makes it even more interesting to me. Thanks again for the chance!

  80. Mrs Brent Magers says:

    Love the history!

  81. Mandy says:

    Awesome blog post.

  82. Trish Rucker says:

    I love your books, but know very little about WWII aviation. This was a very interesting post!

  83. Anne L. Rightler says:

    Love your books…you do know how to bring history to life! Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of the audiobook.

  84. Kathy in nc says:

    You have an amazing site so much information?
    My dad went over all the old wars with me by teaching me the fighting planes. I had little books to learn the bombers. How tell things apart.
    He recently died but funny how we watched every war show it seemed ever made. He would applaud you ??. Bravo fabulous spectacular work.

  85. Jana says:

    Love books about WW2! Your war stories are awesome and the Wings of Glory series is one of my all time favorites. Would love to hear it on audio!

Embers in the London Sky cover
“Another masterful installment in Sundin’s roster of WWII novels.”
—Booklist starred review for Embers in the London Sky

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