Airplanes In My Novels — the B-17D Flying Fortress

In my book, Everything We Had, I refer to aircraft no longer well known, even in the aviation world, and probably not among everyone in the “warbird” community. So here are some pictures and comments to supply the lack.


Most people at all interested in World War II aviation know two airplanes: the B-17G Flying Fortress and the P-51D Mustang. Great airplanes, but note the letters “G” and “D” in the designation. Those letters tell you that the airplane referred to is seventh or the fourth major modification, respectively, to a basic airframe.


In Everything We Had Captain Charles Davis and his crew fly a Boeing B-17D Flying Fortress, and between the “D” and the “G” lie a lot of changes. Compare these two pictures:

Boeing B-17D

Boeing B-17D in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The above picture is a Boeing B-17D, the airplane Charlie and his crew took across the Pacific to the Philippines. Now compare that picture with this one:



Photo Credit: By National Archives via the United States Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB Alabama.Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Rcbutcher using CommonsHelper. Original uploader was Bwmoll3 at en.wikipedia 19 August 2006 (original upload date), Public Domain,


The most immediately obvious change is the tail. Look how it goes from what the crew in the day called the “shark fin” to a longer fillet extending halfway down the fuselage. This was to give the aircraft greater longitudinal stability at high altitude.


The second most obvious change, well, gun turrets! The B-17D had neither power turrets nor a tail gun position, features that became standard after the “D”.


There were other changes like increased fuel tankage, better crew armor, greater bomb load, etc.


The B-17G was a more effective weapon for these changes, many of which were originally embodied in the earlier B-17E and B-17F. Nonetheless, our Air Corps went to war in the B-17D, because that was what we had to send at the time.


First in a series of posts about the airplanes in use at the time of my novels.


–Tom Burkhalter


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2 responses to “Airplanes In My Novels — the B-17D Flying Fortress

  1. It’s intriguing how the relatively clean deco-style lines of the original Boeing Model 299/YB-17 were swiftly cluttered with turrets, hatches, the tail fillet, etc. To me it really underscores just how fast aero technology was changing by the mid-late 1930s. I hadn’t realised how far the earlier B-17’s were deployed into the early Pacific war either – I knew there were some at Pearl Harbour but we get so used to imagining the -G model on those European daylight raids and the Pacific given over to the B-29.

    • Thanks for commenting! Here’s a few tidbits to underscore how fast things were changing: when the prototype B-17, the Model 299, came out, it was considered so complicated only very good (“hot”) and very experienced pilots would be able to handle it. When the prototype crashed during testing it was because the pilots failed to take out a control gust lock, a circumstance that led directly to the adoption of pre-flight checklists, eventually for all airplanes. And adding all that clutter of turrets caused enough aerodynamic drag that the top speed decreased from 300+ mph (Japanese ace Saburo Sakai referred to the B-17D as the “four engined fighter”) to about 285 mph in the B-17G.

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