The Boeing Aircraft Company's B-17 Flying Fortress is without much doubt, America's most famous military aircraft.
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The Boeing Aircraft Company's B-17 Flying Fortress is without much doubt, America's most famous military aircraft. Considered to be one of the major weapons of the Second World War, this four-engined bomber was held in very high esteem by Army Air Forces leaders : after the war, for example, General Carl 'Tooey' Spaatz told AAF chief General Hap Arnold that « the B-17 was the single weapon most responsible for the defeat of Germany ».Ordered by the US Army Air Corps in August 1934, the Model 299 flew for the first time on July 1935 but was not designated B-17 until the following January. The aircraft was tested at Wright Field in fly-offs against the Martin 146 (an improved B-10) and the Douglas DB-1 (based on the DC-2 and later designated B-18). Without question the 250 mph Boeing, carrying eight 600 lb bombs, was far superior to the competition, but when the prototype Model 299 crashed because its controls were inadvertently locked on take-off the B-18 won the Air Corps contract. Boeing was brought to the brink of financial disaster, with the loss of over $6 million, but an Army order for thirteen test Y1B-17s kept the programme – and the company – alive. The next major development, the Y1B-17A, incorporated turbo-supercharges, giving excellent high-altitude performance. There was a hint that the Air Corps dream of a long-range strategic bombardment capability might be fulfilled, but the aircraft was not presented in this way.The B-17 was sold to Congress as the ultimate 'defensive' weapon, reflecting the spirit of the isolationist prewar years : the bomber would be flown to protect US shores and overseas possessions from ennemy fleets – in other words, this marvel of engineering would be an extended form of coastal artillery.
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