Serenade to the Big Bird: the B-17 from Prototype to Active Operations, part one


prototype of the Boeing XB-17 (US Air Force photo) 1936


Boeing Y1B-17 in flight (US Air Force photo ) 1937


Boeing B-17Bs at March Field, California, prior to Pearl Harbor. (US Air Force photo)


B-17F 42-29513, 99th Bomb Wing, 15th Air Force, Italy, 1944 (US Air Force photo)


Boeing B-17F formation over Schweinfurt, Germany, on Aug. 17, 1943. (US Air Force photo).

In this catastrophic daylight mission against the ball-bearing works in Schweinfurt, Germany, sixty B-17s were lost to enemy action with dozens more having to be permanently withdrawn from operations because of damage. Ball-bearings are critical in making machinery and other stuff. We knew that. So did the Germans. The ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt were one of the most heavily defended bombing targets in Germany.


B-17s flying through heavy flak over Germany (Photo courtesy US Air Force).


Boeing B-17G

DAYTON, Ohio — Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby” at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Information below from the website of the National Museum of the United States Air Force (

“In March 1944 this B-17G was assigned to the 91st Bomb Group — “The Ragged Irregulars” — and based at Bassingbourn, England. There its crew named it Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby, after a popular song. It flew 24 combat missions in WWII, receiving flak damage seven times. Its first mission (Frankfurt, Germany) was on March 24, 1944, and last mission (Posen, Poland) on May 29, 1944, when engine problems forced a landing in neutral Sweden where the airplane and crew were interned.

In 1968 Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby was found abandoned in France, and the French government presented the airplane to the U.S. Air Force. In July 1978 the 512th Military Airlift Wing moved it to Dover Air Force Base, Del., for restoration by the volunteers of the 512th Antique Restoration Group. After a massive 10-year job of restoration to flying condition, the aircraft was flown to the museum in October 1988.”


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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: