During the war, B-17s were among the most modern aircraft in the U.S. inventory. However, the advent of the jet age and advances in technology made the Flying Fortress obsolete soon after the conclusion of the war. In the years following World War II, most B-17s were cut up for scrap, used in Air Force research or sold on the surplus market.
In 1934, the Boeing Aircraft Company of Seattle, Washington, began construction of a four-engine heavy bomber. Known as Boeing model 299, it first took flight on July 28, 1935. The government ordered production of 13 of these aircraft, now designated the Y1B-17. Delivery of these first production models was between January 11 and August 4, 1937.
The B-17 received the name Flying Fortress from a Seattle reporter who commented on its defensive firepower. The B-17 underwent a number of improvements over its 10-year production span. Models ranged from the YB-17 to the B-17-G model. Throughout the war, the B-17 was refined and improved as battle experience showed the Boeing designers where improvements could be made. The final B-17 production model, the B-17G, was produced in larger quantities (8,680) than any previous model and is considered the definitive Flying Fort.
With its 13 .50-caliber machine guns – chin, top, ball, and tail turrets; waist and cheek guns – the B-17G was indeed an airplane that earned the respect of its combatants. In addition, air crews liked the B-17 for its ability to withstand heavy combat damage and still return its crew safely home.
Between 1935 and May of 1945, 12,732 B-17s were produced. Of these aircraft, 4,735 were lost during combat missions.
Today, fewer than 100 B-17 airframes exist. At one time, more than 1,000 B-17s could be assembled for mass combat missions, less than 15 of Boeing's famous bombers can still take to the air.