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May 11, 2010

Flying Fortress

(Click on image for full-size version)

The late afternoon sun cast its glare over the old warbird's aluminum skin, highlighting one of the numerous .50 caliber machine guns responsible for it's too-optimistic nickname: Flying Fortress. The casualty rate for aircrews was staggering; a GI had a better chance of surviving the war carrying a rifle and fighting his way on foot across Europe.

Nikon D-40, 18mm, 1/800, f14, EV -1.00

(Click on image for full-size version)

The corona of light around the bomber's nose reveals the perspex that provided the bombardier an unobstructed view of the Third Reich's Festung Europa far below -- but scant protection from German fighters making head-on attacks, cannons blazing.

Nikon D-40, 18mm, 1/1250, f18, EV -3.00

(Click on image for full-size version)

The sun peeks through the cloud cover, blue skies revealed as the gale-force winds shred the overcast, opening a hole through which the Fortress seems ready to soar.

Nikon D-40, 18mm, 1/500, f11, EV -1.00

(Click on image for full-size version)

The supercharger beneath one of the B-17's radial engines seems to glow, it's casing pitted and discolored by the tremendous heat generated from boosting the output of the gigantic powerplants.

Nikon D-40, 18mm, 1/50, f3.5, EV -3.0

(Click on image for full-size version)

The Flying Fortress was cutting-edge technology in it's day, but there are constant reminders scattered throughout of low-tech solutions to the emergencies awaiting the airmen in the hostile European skies.

Nikon D-40, 112mm, 1/30, f5.6, EV -2.0

(Click on image for full-size version)

The Aluminum Overcast sits beneath appropriately gloomy Oxnard skies, the same ashen skies that anxious pilots must have peered into as they waited at English airfields, awaiting the word on their next mission.

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The Flying Fortress was designed for fighting a new kind of aerial war, but its lethal purpose notwithstanding, the plane had art-deco touches adding a stylish -- and incongruous -- flavor to the bomber, like the detail on the center of the yoke: Moderne fonts evoking speed, "Boeing" forming the shape of a plane.

The B-17's nose art -- and the late afternoon sun -- is reflected in the polished chrome of the spinner covering the port inboard prop.

Nikon D-40, 200mm, 1/80, f5.6, EV -1.67

(Click on image for full-size version)

A self-portrait of the photographer alongside the Aluminum Overcast, Oxnard, California, 2010.

Posted by Mike Lief at May 11, 2010 07:07 AM


Make love not war you war monger.

Posted by: Red at May 22, 2010 02:54 PM

Red, You're a jackass.

That's a turbo-charger, not a supercharger. It's driven by the exhaust gases, that's why it's discolored; they're very hot. Basically, it's the same as the turbo's on modern cars, just a LOT bigger.

Great article about a great bit of history.


Posted by: PeterT at May 29, 2010 09:17 PM

PeterT --

Thanks for the compliment!

About that turbocharger, I was certain that the B-17 was supercharged, and I did a quick search. According to this site (perhaps not definitive, but it sounds pretty well-researched), the Flying Fortress' engines were supercharged.

"Powerplant: Four 1,200 hp (895 kW) Wright R-1820-97 Cyclones nine cylinder air-cooled single row radial engines. General Electric Type B-22 exhaust driven turbo-superchargers, installed under engine nacelles."

Interestingly, the account by a Luftwaffe pilot about flying a captured B-17 refers to them as "exhaust-driven turbosuperchargers."

Posted by: Mike Lief at May 29, 2010 09:41 PM

Here's a good explanation of how the turbo-supercharger worked on the P-47 Thunderbolt:

The large P-47 Thunderbolt turbo-supercharger was stowed internally in the rear fuselage, with a large air intake duct mounted under the engine, together with the engine oil coolers. Exhaust gases were piped back separately to the turbine and expelled through the turbine exhaust duct in the bottom of the fuselage. Ducted air is then fed to the centrifugal impeller, and returned, via an intercooler to the engine under pressure. The principle behind a supercharger is that the exhaust gas is directed to a turbine that has a shared axle with a centrifugal impeller. Outside air is directed through the compressor and delivered to the engine intake. This allows the engine to deliver more power as the airplane gains altitude in the thinner air of the upper atmosphere.

Posted by: Mike Lief at May 29, 2010 10:03 PM