B-17 Training Manual

This manual is the text for your training as a B-17 pilot and airplane commander.

The Air Forces’ most experienced training and supervisory personnel have collaborated to make it a complete exposition of what your pilot duties are, how each duty will be performed, and why it must be performed in the manner prescribed.

The techniques and procedures described in this book are standard and mandatory. In this respect the manual serves the dual purpose of a training checklist and a working handbook. Use it to make sure that you learn everything described herein. Use it to study and review the essential facts concerning everything taught. Such additional self-study and review will not only advance your training, but will alleviate the burden of your already overburdened instructors.

This training manual does not replace the Technical Orders for the airplane, which will always be your primary source of information concerning the B-17 so long as you fly it. This is essentially the textbook of the B-17. Used properly, it will enable you to utilize the pertinent Technical Orders to even greater advantage.

Henry H. Arnold,
General U.S. Army,
Commanding General,
Army Air Forces


The Story of the B-17

In 1934 the U. S. Army Air Corps asked for a battleship of the skies. The specifications called for a “multi-engine” bomber that would have a high speed of 200-250 mph at 10,000 feet, an operating speed of 170-200 mph at the same altitude, a range of 6 to 10 hours, and a service ceiling of 20,000-25,000 feet.

Boeing designers figured that with a conventional 2-engine type of airplane they could meet all specifications and probably better them. But such a design probably would not provide much edge over he entries of competitors. They decided to build a revolutionary type of 4-engine bomber.

In July 1935 an airplane such as the world had never seen before rolled out on the apron of the Boeing plant at Seattle, Wash. It was huge: 105 feet in wing span, 70 feet from nose to tail, 15 feet in height. It was equipped with 4 Pratt & Whitney Hornet 750 Hp engines, and 4 Hamilton Standard 3-bladed constant-speed propellers. To eliminate air resistance, its bomb load was tucked away in internal bomb bays. Pilots and crew had soundproofed, heated, comfortable quarters where they could operate efficiently while flying in any kind of climate. And the big bomber bristled with formidable firepower.

“It’s a regular fortress,” someone observed, “a fortress with wings.”

Thus the Boeing 299, later designated the XB-17, was born — the grandfather of the Flying Fortress that was to become champion and pace-setter of all heavy bombardment aircraft in World War II.

The XB-17 surpassed all Army specifications for speed, climb, range and load-carrying requirements. Then, in October, 1935, itcrashed at Wright Field when a test pilot neglected to unlock the elevators on takeoff.

But the Army Air Corps recognized in this first Fortress the heavy bomber of the future. Thirteen airplanes, designated Y1B-17, were ordered. While one airplane was held at Wright Field for experimental purposes, the other 12 went out to set new range and speed records, cruising the Western Hemisphere, and confounding skeptics who said that the Flying Fortress was “too much airplane for any but super-pilots.” Not one of the 12 was ever destroyed by accident. Once, one stalled and spun down over Langley Field, but recovered and landed safely. Recording instruments showed that it had held up under greater stress than it was designed to stand.

With experience, the Fortress acquired new strength, virtues, possibilities. The Y1B-17A, equipped with Wright G Cyclone engines and General Electric turbo-superchargers, gave astonishing performances at altitudes above 30,000 feet. The B-17B, flight tested in 1939, had 1000 Hp Wright Cyclone engines and hydromatic full-feathering propellers. The first B-17B left Seattle on 1 August, 1939, and arrived in New York 9 hours, 14 minutes later, setting a new coast-to-coast non-stop speed record. Later, seven B-17Bs cruised the hemisphere to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Republic of Brazil.

In the spring of 1940, when Hitler had over-run Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and France, the B-17C made its debut with more armor plate for crew protection and more power in its engines. The B-17D took on leakproof fuel tanks, increased armament, better engine cooling in fast climbs, and a speed increase to more than 300 mph.

When the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor, the B-17C’s and B-17D’s were the first Fortresses to see action. But soon the B-17E’s were on their way to join them in even greater numbers — faster, heavier, sturdier Fortresses, packing .50-cal. waist and tail guns, with a Sperry ball turret under the fuselage, and another power turret on top.

By the spring of 1942, still another Fortress — the B-17F — with longer range, greater bomb load capacity, more protective armament and striking power, was streaking across both Atlantic and Pacific in enormous numbers to provide what General Arnold called “the guts and backbone of our world-wide aerial offensive.”

Rugged Forts Make History

The combat record of the Flying Fortress has been written daily in newspaper headlines since Dec. 7, 1941.

From the hour of Pearl Harbor, through the dark, early months of the war in the Pacific, they were sinking Jap ships and shooting arrogant Zeros out of the skies.

They carried the war to the enemy in the Coral Sea, over Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Java, Burma, the Bismarck Sea.

Changing tactics, they hedgehopped volcanic peaks, flew practically at water level through unbroken fog, to bomb the Japs out of the Aleutians.

They flew the blistering deserts to drive the enemy out of North Africa, and Mediterranean, Sicily, and open the way to Rome.

Beginning in August, 1942, they brought daylight bombing to Hitler’s Europe, first over strategic targets in Occupied France, then gradually spreading out over the continent until, in the spring of 1944, shuttle bombing from bases in Britain and Russia left no corner of the once haughty Festung Europa safe from concentrated Allied bombing attacks.

Detailed Fortress history must remain a voluminous post-war job for military historians. For pilots, however, one important fact stands clear-cut now. The Flying Fortress is a rugged airplane.

In the words of one veteran: “She’ll not only get you to the target and do the job, but she’ll fight her way out, take terrific punishment, and get you safely home.”

Headlines have reiterated that fact with heart-warming redundancy:


The B-17’s incredible capacity to take it — to come flying home on three, two, even one engine, sieve-like with flak and bullet holes, with large sections of wing or tail surfaces shot away — has been so widely publicized that U. S. fighting men could afford to joke about it.

But the fact remains: the rugged Forts can take it and still fly home. Why?

The B-17 is built for battle. Its wings are constructed with heavy truss-type spars which tend to localize damage by enemy fire so that basic wing strength is not affected.

Because of its unusual tail design, the airplane can be flown successfully even when vertical or horizontal tail surfaces have been partially destroyed, or with one or more engines shot away.

Even when battle damage prevents use of all other control methods, the autopilot provides near-normal maneuverability.

There are many other reasons. But perhaps the most important of all is the fact that every man who flies one knows that the B-17 is a pilot’s airplane. It inspires confidence and warrants it. For the fulfillment of its intended function it demands just one thing: pilot know-how.


Duties and Responsibilities of

Your assignment to the B-17 airplane means that you are no longer just a pilot. You are now an airplane commander, charged with all the duties and responsibilities of a command post.

You are now flying a 10-man weapon. It is your airplane, and your crew. You are responsible for the safety and efficiency of the crew at all times–not just when you are flying and fighting, but for the full 24 hours of every day while you are in command.

Your crew is made up of specialists. Each man — whether he is the navigator, bombardier, engineer, radio operator, or one of the gunners — is an expert in his line. But how well he does his job, and how efficiently he plays his part as a member of your combat team, will depend to a great extent on how well you play your own part as the airplane commander.

Get to know each member of your crew as an individual. Know his personal idiosyncrasies, his capabilities, his shortcomings. Take a personal interest in his problems, his ambitions, his need for specific training.

See that your men are properly quartered, clothed, and fed. There will be many times, when your airplane and crew are away from the home base, when you may even have to carry your interest to the extent of financing them yourself. Remember always that you are the commanding officer of a miniature army — a specialized army; and that morale is one of the biggest problems for the commander of any army, large or small.

Crew Discipline

Your success as the airplane commander will depend in a large measure on the respect, confidence, and trust which the crew feels for you. It will depend also on how well you maintain crew discipline.

Your position commands obedience and respect. This does not mean that you have to be stiff-necked, overbearing, or aloof. Such characteristics most certainly will defeat your purpose. Be friendly, understanding, but firm. Know your job; and, by the way you perform your duties daily, impress upon the crew that you do know your job. Keep close to your men, and let them realize that their interests are uppermost in your mind. Make fair decisions, after due consideration of all the facts involved; but make them in such a way as to impress upon your crew that your decisions are to stick. Crew discipline is vitally important, but it need not be as difficult a problem as it sounds. Good discipline in an air crew breeds comradeship and high morale, and the combination is unbeatable.

You can be a good CO, and still be a regular guy. You can command respect from your men, and still be one of them.

“To associate discipline with informality, comradeship, a leveling of rank, and at times a shift in actual command away from the leader, may seem paradoxical,” says a brigadier general, formerly a Group commander in the VIII Bomber Command. “Certainly, it isn’t down the military groove. But it is discipline just the same — and the kind of discipline that brings success in the air.”

Crew Training

Train your crew as a team. Keep abreast of their training. It won’t be possible for you to follow each man’s courses of instruction, but you can keep a close check on his record and progress.

Get to know each man’s duties and problems. Know his job, and try to devise ways and means of helping him to perform it more efficiently.

Each crew member naturally feels great pride in the importance of his particular specialty. You can help him to develop his pride to include the manner in which he performs that duty. To do that you must possess and maintain a thorough knowledge of each man’s job and the problems he has to deal with in the performance of his duties.


Duties and Responsibilities of

The copilot is the executive officer — your chief assistant, understudy, and strong right arm. He must be familiar enough with every one of your duties — both as pilot and as airplane commander — to be able to take over and act in your place at any time.

  • He must he able to fly the airplane under all conditions as well as you would fly it yourself.
  • He must he extremely proficient in engine operation, and know instinctively what to do to keep the airplane flying smoothly even though he is not handling the controls.
  • He must have a thorough knowledge of cruising control data, and know how to apply it at the proper time.
  • He is also the engineering officer aboard the airplane, and maintains a complete log of performance data.
  • He must be a qualified instrument pilot.
  • He must he able to fly good formation in any assigned position, day or night.
  • He must he qualified to navigate by day or at night by pilotage, dead reckoning, and by use of radio aids.
  • He must be proficient in the operation of all radio equipment located in the pilot’s compartment.
  • In formation flying, he must be able to make engine adjustments almost automatically.
  • He must be prepared to take over on instruments when the formation is climbing through an overcast, thus enabling you to watch the rest of the formation.

Always remember that the copilot is a fully trained, rated pilot just like yourself. He is subordinate to you only by virtue of your position as the airplane commander. The B-17 is a lot of airplane; more airplane than any one pilot can handle alone over a long period of time. Therefore, you have been provided with a second pilot who will share the duties of flight operation.

Treat your copilot as a brother pilot. Remember that the more proficient he is as a pilot, the more efficiently he will be able to perform the duties of the vital post he holds as your second in command.

Be sure that he is allowed to do his share of the flying, in the pilot’s seat, on takeoffs, landings, and on instruments.

The importance of the copilot is eloquently testified to by airplane commanders overseas. There have been many cases in which the pilot has been disabled or killed in flight and the copilot has taken full command of both airplane and crew, completed the mission, and returned safely to the home base. Usually, the copilots who have distinguished themselves under such conditions have been copilots who have been respected and trained by the airplane commander as pilots.

Bear in mind that the pilot in the right-hand seat of your airplane is preparing himself for an airplane commander’s post too. Allow him every chance to develop his ability and to profit by your experience.


Duties and Responsibilities of

The navigator’s job is to direct your flight from departure to destination and return. He must know the exact position of the airplane at all times.

Navigation is the art of determining geographic positions by means of (a) pilotage, (b) dead reckoning, (c) radio, or (d) celestial navigation, or any combination of these 4 methods. By any one or combination of methods the navigator determines the position of the airplane in relation to the earth.


Pilotage is the method of determining the airplane’s position by visual reference to the ground. The importance of accurate pilotage cannot over-emphasized. In combat navigation, all bombing targets are approached by pilotage, and in many theaters the route is maintained by pilotage. This requires not merely the vicinity type, but pin-point pilotage. The exact position of the airplane must be known not within 5 miles but within ¼ of a mile.

The navigator does this by constant reference to groundspeeds and ETA’s established for points ahead, the ground, and to his maps and charts. During the mission, so long as he can maintain visual contact with the ground, the navigator can establish these pin-point positions so that the exact track of the airplane will be known when the mission is completed.

Dead Reckoning

Dead reckoning is the basis of all other types of navigation. For instance, if the navigator is doing pilotage and computes ETA’s for points ahead, he is using dead reckoning.

Dead reckoning determines the position of the airplane at any given time by keeping an account of the track and distance flown over the earth’s surface from the point of departure or last known position.

Dead reckoning can be subdivided into two classes:

  1. Dead reckoning as a result of a series of known positions obtained by some other means of navigation.

    For example, you, as pilot, start on a mission from London to Berlin at 25,000 feet. For the first hour your navigator keeps track by pilotage; at the same time recording the heading and airspeed which you are holding. According to plan, at the end of the first hour the airplane goes above the clouds, thus losing contact with the ground. By means of dead reckoning from his last pilotage point, the navigator is able to tell the position of the aircraft at any time. The first hour’s travel has given him the wind prevalent at altitude, and the track and groundspeed being made. By computing track and distance from the last pilotage point, he can always tell the position of the airplane. When your airplane comes out of the clouds near Berlin, the navigator will have a very close approximation of his exact position, and will be able to pick up pilotage points quickly.

  2. Dead reckoning as a result of visual references other than pilotage.

    When flying over water, desert, or barren land, where no reliable pilotage points are available, accurate DR navigation still can be performed. By means of the drift meter the navigator is able to determine drift, the angle between the heading of the airplane and its track over the ground. The true heading of the airplane is obtained by application of compass error to the compass reading. The true heading plus or minus the drift (as read on the drift meter) gives the track of the airplane. At a constant airspeed, drift on 2 or more headings will give the navigator information necessary to obtain the wind by use of his computer. Groundspeed is computed easily once the wind, heading, and airspeed are known. So, by constant recording of true heading, true airspeed, drift, and groundspeed, the navigator is able to determine accurately the position of the airplane at any given time. For greatest accuracy, the pilot must maintain constant courses and airspeeds. If course or airspeed is changed, notify the navigator so he can record these changes.


Radio navigation makes use of various radio aids to determine position. The development of many new radio devices has increased the use of radio in combat zones. However, the ease with which radio aids can be jammed, or bent, limits the use of radio to that of a check on DR and pilotage. The navigator, in conjunction with the radio man, is responsible for all radio procedures, approaches, etc., that are in effect in the theater.


Celestial navigation is the science of determining position by reference to 2 or more celestial bodies. The navigator uses a sextant, accurate time, and many tables to obtain what he calls a line of position. Actually this line is part of a circle on which the altitude of the particular body is constant for that instant of time. An intersection of 2 or more of these lines gives the navigator a fix. These fixes can be relied on as being accurate within approximately 10 miles. One reason for inaccuracy is the instability of the airplane as it moves through space, causing acceleration of the sextant bubble (a level denoting the horizontal). Because of this acceleration, the navigator takes observations over a period of time so that the acceleration error will cancel out to some extent. If the navigator tells the pilot when he wishes to take an observation, extremely careful flying on the part of the pilot during the few minutes it takes to make the observation will result in much greater accuracy. Generally speaking, the only celestial navigation used by a combat crew is during the delivering flight to the theater. But in all cases celestial navigation is used as a check on dead reckoning and pilotage except where celestial is the only method available, such as on long over-water flights, etc.

Instrument Calibration

Instrument calibration is an important duty of the navigator. All navigation depends directly on the accuracy of his instruments. Correct calibration requires close cooperation and extremely careful flying by the pilot. Instruments to be calibrated include the altimeter, all compasses, airspeed indicators, alignment of the astrocompass, astrograph, and drift meter, and check on the navigator’s sextant and watch.

Pilot-Navigator Preflight Planning

  1. Pilot and navigator must study flight plan of the route to be flown and select alternate air fields.
  2. Study the weather with the navigator. Know what weather you are likely to encounter. Decide what action is to be taken. Know the weather conditions at the alternate airfields.
  3. Inform your navigator at what airspeed and altitude you wish to fly so that he can prepare his flight plan.
  4. Learn what type of navigation the navigator intends to use: pilotage, dead reckoning, radio, celestial, or a combination of all methods.
  5. Determine check points; plan to make radio fixes.
  6. Work out an effective communication method with your navigator to be used in flight.
  7. Synchronize your watch with your navigator’s.

Pilot-Navigator in Flight

  1. Constant course – For accurate navigation, the pilot — you — must fly a constant course. The navigator has many computations and entries to make in his log. Constantly changing course makes his job more difficult. A good navigator is supposed to be able to follow the pilot, but he cannot be taking compass readings all the time.
  2. Constant airspeed must be held as nearly as possible. This is as important to the navigator as is a constant course in determining position.
  3. Precision flying by the pilot greatly affects the accuracy of the navigator’s instrument readings, particularly celestial readings. A slight error in celestial reading can cause considerable error in determining positions. You can help the navigator by providing as steady a platform as possible from which he can take readings. The navigator should notify you when he intends to take readings so that the airplane can be leveled off and flown as smoothly as possible, preferably by using the automatic pilot. Do not allow your navigator to be disturbed while he is taking celestial readings.
  4. Notify the navigator of any change in flight, such as change in altitude, course, or airspeed. If change in flight plan is to be made, consult the navigator. Talk over the proposed change so that he can plan the flight and advise you about it.
  5. If there is doubt about the position of the airplane, pilot and navigator should get together, refer to the navigator’s flight log, talk the problem over and decide together the best course of action to take.
  6. Check your compasses at intervals with those of the navigator, noting any deviation.
  7. Require your navigator to give position reports at intervals.
  8. You are ultimately responsible for getting the airplane to its destination. Therefore, it is your duty to know your position at all times.
  9. Encourage your navigator to use as many navigation methods as possible as a means of double-checking.

Post-flight Critique

After every flight get together with the navigator and discuss the flight and compare notes. Go over the navigator’s log. If there have been serious navigational errors, discuss them with the navigator and determine their cause. If the navigator has been at fault, caution him that it is his job to see that the same mistake does not occur again. If the error has been caused by faulty instruments, see that they are corrected before another navigation mission is attempted. If your flying has contributed to inaccuracy in navigation, try to fly a better course next time.

Miscellaneous Duties

The navigator’s primary duty is navigating your airplane with a high degree of accuracy. But as a member of the team, he must also have a general knowledge of the entire operation of the airplane.

He has a .50-cal. machine gun at his station, and he must be able to use it skillfully and to service it in emergencies.

He must be familiar with the oxygen system, know how to operate the turrets, radio equipment, and fuel transfer system.

He must know the location of all fuses and spare fuses, lights and spare lights, affecting navigation.

He must be familiar with emergency procedures, such as the manual operation of landing gear, bomb bay doors, and flaps, and the proper procedures for crash landings, ditching, bailout, etc.


Duties and Responsibilities of

Accurate and effective bombing is the ultimate purpose of your entire airplane and crew. Every other function is preparatory to hitting and destroying the target.

That’s your bombardier’s job. The success or failure of the mission depends upon what he accomplishes in that short interval of the bombing run.

When the bombardier takes over the airplane for the run on the target, he is in absolute command. He will tell you what he wants done, and until he tells you “Bombs away,” his word is law.

A great deal, therefore, depends on the understanding between bombardier and pilot. You expect your bombardier to know his job when he takes over. He expects you to understand the problems involved in his job, and to give him full cooperation. Teamwork between pilot and bombardier is essential.

Under any given set of conditions — groundspeed, altitude, direction, etc. — there is only one point in space where a bomb may be released from the airplane to hit a predetermined object on the ground.

There are many things with which a bombardier must be thoroughly familiar in order to release his bombs at the right point to hit this predetermined target.

  • He must know and understand his bombsight, what it does, and how it does it.
  • He must thoroughly understand the operation and upkeep of his bombing instruments and equipment.
  • He must know that his racks, switches, controls, releases, doors, linkage, etc., are in first class operating condition.
  • He must understand the automatic pilot as it pertains to bombing.
  • He must know how to set it up, make any adjustments and minor repairs while in flight.
  • He must know how to operate all gun positions in the airplane.
  • He must know how to load and clear simple stoppages and jams of machine guns while in flight.
  • He must be able to load and fuse his own bombs.
  • He must understand the destructive power of bombs and must know the vulnerable spots on various types of targets.
  • He must understand the bombing problem, bombing probabilities, bombing errors, etc.
  • He must be thoroughly versed in target identification and in aircraft identification.

The bombardier should be familiar with the duties of all members of the crew and should be able to assist the navigator in case the navigator becomes incapacitated.

For the bombardier to be able to do his job, the pilot of the aircraft must place the aircraft in the proper position to arrive at a point on a circle about the target from which the bombs can be released to hit the target.

Consider the following conditions which affect the bomb dropped from an airplane:

  1. ALTITUDE: Controlled by the pilot. Determines the length of time the bomb is sustained in flight and affected by atmospheric conditions, thus affecting the range (forward travel of the bomb) and deflection (distance the bomb drifts in a crosswind with respect to airplane’s ground track).
  2. TRUE AIRSPEED: Controlled by the pilot. The measure of the speed of the airplane through the air. It is this speed which is imparted to the bomb and which gives the bomb its initial forward velocity and, therefore, affects the trail of the bomb, or the distance the bomb lags behind the airplane at the instant of impact.
  3. BOMB BALLISTICS: Size, shape and density of the bomb, which determines its air resistance. Bombardier uses bomb ballistics tables to account for type of bomb.
  4. TRAIL: Horizontal distance the bomb is behind the airplane at the instant of impact. This value, obtained from bombing tables, is set in the sight by the bombardier. Trail is affected by altitude, airspeed, bomb ballistics and air density, the first three factors being controlled by the pilot.
  5. ACTUAL TIME OF FALL: Length of time the bomb is sustained in air from instant of release to instant of impact. Affected by altitude, type of bomb and air density. Pilot controls altitude to obtain a definite actual time of fall.
  6. GROUNDSPEED: The speed of the airplane in relation to the earth’s surface. Groundspeed affects the range of the bomb and varies with the airspeed, controlled by the pilot. Bombardier enters groundspeed in the bombsight through synchronization on the target. During this process the pilot must maintain the correct altitude and constant airspeed.
  7. DRIFT: Determined by the direction and velocity of the wind, which determines the distance the bomb will travel downwind from the airplane from the instant the bomb is released to its instant of impact. Drift is set on the bombsight by the bombardier during the process of synchronization and setting up course.

The above conditions indicate that the pilot plays an important part in determining the proper point of release of the bomb. Moreover, throughout the course of the run, as explained below, there are certain preliminaries and techniques which the pilot must understand to insure accuracy and minimum loss of time.

Prior to takeoff the pilot must ascertain that the airplane’s flight instruments have been checked and found accurate. These are the altimeter, airspeed indicator, free air temperature gauge and all gyro instruments. These instruments must be used to determine accurately the airplane’s attitude.

The Pilot’s Preliminaries

The autopilot and PDI should be checked for proper operation. It is very important that PDI and autopilot function perfectly in the air; otherwise it will be impossible for the bombardier to set up an accurate course on the bombing run. The pilot should thoroughly familiarize himself with the function of both the C-1 autopilot and PDI.

If the run is to be made on the autopilot, the pilot must carefully adjust the autopilot before reaching the target area. The autopilot must be adjusted under the same conditions that will exist on the bombing run over the target. For this reason the following factors should be taken into consideration and duplicated for initial adjustment.

  1. Speed, altitude and power settings at which run is to be made.
  2. Airplane trimmed at this speed to fly hands off with bomb bay doors opened.

The same condition will exist during the actual run, except that changes in load will occur before reaching the target area because of gas consumption. The pilot will continue making adjustments to correct for this by disengaging the autopilot elevator control and re-trimming the airplane, then re-engaging and adjusting the autopilot trim of the elevator.

Setting Up the Autopilot

One of the most important items in setting up the autopilot for bomb approach is to adjust the turn compensation knobs so that a turn made by the bombardier will be coordinated and at constant altitude. Failure to make this adjustment will involve difficulty and delay for the bombardier in establishing an accurate course during the run with the possibility that the bombardier may not be able to establish a proper course in time, the result being considerably large deflection errors in point of impact.

Uncoordinated turns by the autopilot on the run cause erratic lateral motion of the cross hair of the bombsight when sighting on target. The bombardier in setting up course must eliminate any lateral motion of the fore-and-aft hair in relation to the target before he has the proper course set up. Therefore, any erratic motion of the cross hair requires an additional correction by the bombardier. which would not be necessary if autopilot was adjusted to make coordinated turns.

USE OF THE PDI: The same is true if PDI is used on the bomb run. Again, coordinated smooth turns by the pilot become an essential part of the bomb run. In addition to added course corrections necessitated by uncoordinated turns, skidding and slipping introduce small changes in airspeed affecting synchronization of the bombsight on the target. To help the pilot flying the run on PDI, the airplane should be trimmed to fly practically hands off.

Assume that you are approaching the target area with autopilot properly adjusted. Before reaching the initial point (beginning of bomb run) there is evasive action to be considered. Many different types of evasive tactics are employed, but from experience it has been recommended that the method of evasive action be left up to the bombardier, since the entire anti- aircraft pattern is fully visible to the bombardier in the nose.

EVASIVE ACTION: Changes in altitude necessary for evasive action can be coordinated with the bombardier’s changes in direction at specific intervals. This procedure is helpful to the bombardier since he must select the initial point at which he will direct the airplane onto the briefed heading for the beginning of the bomb run.

Should the pilot be flying the evasive action on PDI (at the direction of the bombardier) he must know the exact position of the initial point for beginning the run, so that he can fly the airplane to that point and be on the briefed heading. Otherwise, there is a possibility of beginning to run too soon, which increases the airplane’s vulnerability, or beginning the run too late, which will affect the accuracy of the bombing. For best results the approach should be planned so the airplane arrives at the initial point on the briefed heading, and at the assigned bombing altitude and airspeed.

At this point the bombardier and pilot as a team should exert an extra effort to solve the problem at hand. It is now the bombardier’s responsibility to take over the direction of flight, and give directions to the pilot for the operations to follow. The pilot must be able to follow the bombardier’s directions with accuracy and minimum loss of time, since the longest possible bomb run seldom exceeds 3 minutes. Wavering and indecision at this moment are disastrous to the success of any mission, and during the crucial portion of the run, flak and fighter opposition must be ignored if bombs are to hit the target. The pilot and bombardier should keep each other informed of anything which may affect the successful completion of the run.

HOLDING A LEVEL: Either before or during the run, the bombardier will ask the pilot for a level. This means that the pilot must accurately level his airplane with his instruments (ignoring the PDI). There should be no acceleration of the airplane in any direction, such as an increase or decrease in airspeed, skidding or slipping, gaining or losing altitude.

For the level the pilot should keep a close check on his instruments, not by feel or watching the horizon. Any acceleration of the airplane during this moment will affect the bubbles (through centrifugal force) on the bombsight gyro, and the bombardier will not be able to establish an accurate level.

For example, assume that an acceleration occurred during the moment the bombardier was accomplishing a level on the gyro. A small increase in airspeed or a small skid, hardly perceptible, is sufficient to shift the gyro bubble liquid 1 degree or more. An erroneous tilt of 1 degree on the gyro will cause an error of approximately 440 feet in the point of impact of a bomb dropped from 20,000 feet, the direction of error depending on direction of tilt of gyro caused by the erroneous bubble reading,

HOLDING ALTITUDE AND AIRSPEED: As the bombardier proceeds to set up his course (synchronize) , it is absolutely essential that the pilot maintain the selected altitude and air- speed within the closest possible limits. For every additional 100 feet above the assumed 20,000-foot bombing altitude, the bombing error will increase approximately 30 feet, the direction of error being over. For erroneous airspeed, which creates difficulty in synchronization on the target, the bombing error will be approximately 170 feet for a 10 mph change in airspeed. Assuming the airspeed was 10 mph in excess, from 20,000 feet, the bomb impact would be short 170 feet.

The pilot’s responsibility to provide a level and to maintain a selected altitude and airspeed within the closest limits cannot be over-emphasized.

If the pilot is using PDI (at the direction of the bombardier) instead of autopilot, he must be thoroughly familiar with the corrections demanded by the bombardier. Too large a correction or too small a correction, too soon or too late, is as bad as no correction at all. Only through prodigious practice flying with the PDI can the pilot become proficient to a point where he can actually perform a coordinated turn, the amount and speed necessary to balance the bombardier’s signal from the bombsight.

Erratic airspeeds, varying altitudes, and poorly coordinated turns make the job of establishing course and synchronizing doubly difficult for both pilot and bombardier, because of the necessary added corrections required. The resulting bomb impact will be far from satisfactory.

After releasing the bombs, the pilot or bombardier may continue evasive action — usually the pilot, so that the bombardier may man his guns.

The pilot using the turn control may continue to fly the airplane on autopilot, or fly it manually, with the autopilot in a position to he engaged by merely flipping the lock switches. This would provide potential control of the airplane in case of emergency.

REDUCING CIRCULAR ERROR: One of the greatest assets towards reducing the circular error of a bombing squadron lies in the pilot’s ability to adjust the autopilot properly, fly the PDI, and maintain the designated altitude and airspeeds during the bombing run. Reducing the circular error of a bombing squadron reduces the total number of aircraft required to destroy a particular target. For this reason both pilot and bombardier should work together until they have developed a complete understanding and confidence in each other.


Duties and Responsibilities of

There is a lot of radio equipment in today’s B-17’s. There is one man in particular who is supposed to know all there is to know about this equipment. Sometimes he does, but often he doesn’t. And when the radio operator’s deficiencies do not become apparent until the crew is in the combat zone, it is then too late. Too often the lives of pilots and crew are lost because the radio operator has accepted his responsibility indifferently.

Radio is a subject that cannot be learned in a day. It cannot be mastered in 6 weeks, but sufficient knowledge can be imparted to the radio man during his period of training in the United States if he is willing to study. It is imperative that you check your radio operator’s ability to handle his job before taking him overseas as part of your crew. To do this you may have to check the various departments to find any weakness in the radio operator’s training and proficiency and to aid the instructors in overcoming such weaknesses.

Training in the various phases of the heavy bomber program is designed to fit each member of the crew for the handling of his jobs. The radio operator will be required to:

  1. Render position reports every 30 minutes.
  2. Assist the navigator in taking fixes.
  3. Keep the liaison and command sets properly tuned and in good operating order.
  4. Understand from an operational point of view:
    1. Instrument landing
    2. IFF
    3. VHF

    and other navigational aids equipment in the airplane.

  5. Maintain a log.

In addition to being a radio operator, the radio man is also a gunner. During periods of combat he will be required to leave his watch at the radio and take up his guns. He is often required to learn photography. Some of the best pictures taken in the Southwest Pacific were taken by radio operators. The radio operator who cannot perform his job properly may be the weakest member of your crew — and the crew is no stronger than its weakest member.


Duties and Responsibilities of

Size up the man who is to be your engineer. This man is supposed to know more about the airplane you are to fly than any other member of the crew.

He has been trained in the Air Forces’ highly specialized technical schools. Probably he has served some time as a crew chief. Nevertheless, there may be some inevitable blank spots in his training which you, as a pilot and airplane commander, may be able to fill in.

Think back on your own training. In many courses of instruction, you had a lot of things thrown at you from right and left. You had to concentrate on how to fly; and where your equipment was concerned you learned to rely more and more on the enlisted personnel, particularly the crew chief and the engineer, to advise you about things that were not taught to you because of lack of time and the arrangement of the training program.

Both pilot and engineer have a responsibility to work closely together to supplement and fill in the blank spots in each other’s education. To be a qualified combat engineer a man must know his airplane, his engines, and his armament equipment thoroughly. This is a big responsibility: the lives of the entire crew, the safety of the equipment, the success of the mission depend upon it squarely.

He must work closely with the copilot, checking engine operation, fuel consumption, and the operation of all equipment. He must be able to work with the bombardier, and know how to cock, lock, and load the bomb racks. It is up to you, the airplane commander, to see that he is familiar with these duties, and, if he is hazy concerning them, to have the bombardier give him special help and instruction.

He must be thoroughly familiar with the armament equipment, and know how to strip, clean, and re-assemble the guns.

He should have a general knowledge of radio equipment, and be able to assist in tuning transmitters and receivers.

Your engineer should be your chief source of information concerning the airplane. He should know more about the equipment than any other crew member — yourself included.

You, in turn, are his source of information concerning flying. Bear this in mind in all your discussions with the engineer. The more complete you can make his knowledge of the reasons behind every function of the equipment, the more valuable he will be as a member of the crew. Who knows? Someday that little bit of extra knowledge in the engineer’s mind may save the day in some emergency.

Generally, in emergencies, the engineer will be the man to whom you turn first. Build up his pride, his confidence, his knowledge. Know him personally; check on the extent of his knowledge. Make him a man upon whom you can rely.


Duties and Responsibilities of

The B-17 is a most effective gun platform, but its effectiveness can be either applied or defeated by the way the gunners in your crew perform their duties in action.

Your gunners belong to one of two distinct categories: turret gunners and flexible gunners.

The power turret gunners require many mental and physical qualities similar to what we know as inherent flying ability, since the operation of the power turret and gunsight are much like that of airplane flight operation.

While the flexible gunners do not require the same delicate touch as the turret gunner, they must have a fine sense of timing and he familiar with the rudiments of exterior ballistics.

All gunners should be familiar with the coverage area of all gun positions, and be prepared to bring the proper gun to bear as the conditions may warrant.

They should be experts in aircraft identification. Where the Sperry turret is used, failure to set the target dimension dial properly on the K-type sight will result in miscalculation of range.

They must be thoroughly familiar with the Browning aircraft machine gun. They should know how to maintain the guns, how to clear jams and stoppages, and how to harmonize the sights with the guns. While participating in training flights, the gunners should be operating their turrets constantly, tracking with the flexible guns even when actual firing is not practical. Other airplanes flying in the vicinity offer excellent tracking targets, as do automobiles, houses, and other ground objects during low altitude flights.

The importance of teamwork cannot he overemphasized. One poorly trained gunner, or one man not on the alert, can be the weak link as a result of which the entire crew may be lost.

Keep the interest of your gunners alive at all times. Any form of competition among the gunners themselves should stimulate interest to a high degree.

Finally, each gunner should fire the guns at each station to familiarize himself with the other man’s position and to insure knowledge of operation in the event of an emergency.

Interior of the Airplane

Crew Compartments


Protective armor plate, mounted on rubber cushions, is installed at crew stations throughout the airplane.

The pilot, copilot and radio operator are protected by armor plate on the backs of their seats.

The bombardier-navigator compartment contains armor plate on the bulkhead at the rear of the compartment.

Armor protection for the top turret operator is placed on the aft side of the bulkhead at the rear of the pilot’s compartment.

The gunner’s seat in the ball turret is made of armor plate.

Armor plate in the waist gunner’s compartment is installed above, below, and to the rear of each side window.

Padded armor plates and bulletproof glass protect the tail gunner.

The autopilot Servo motors above the tailwheel are protected by armor at the side and bottom.




When you get into combat you will learn that your best assurance of becoming a veteran of World War II is the good, well-planned, and well-executed formation.

Formation flying is the first requisite of successful operation of the heavy bomber in combat. Groups that are noted for their proficiency in formation flying are usually the groups with the lowest casualty rates. Proper formation provides: controlled and concentrated firepower, maneuverability, cross-cover, precise bombing pattern, and better fighter protection.

Heavy Bomber Formations

Formation flying in 4-engine airplanes presents greater problems than formation flying in smaller aircraft. The problems increase in almost direct proportion to the airplane’s size and weight. In the B-17, relatively slower response to power and control changes require a much higher degree of anticipation on the part of the pilot. Therefore you must allow a greater factor of safety.

Violent maneuvers are unnecessary and seldom encountered. Close flying becomes an added hazard which accomplishes no purpose and is not even an indication of a good formation. Bear in mind that it is much more difficult to maintain position when flying with proper spacing between airplanes than with wings overlapping.

Safety first is a prerequisite of a good formation because a greater number of lives and a larger amount of equipment is in the hands of the responsible pilot in a large 4-engine airplane.


In flying the Vee formation, aircraft will not be flown closer to one another than 50 feet from nose to tail and wingtip to wingtip. Maintain this horizontal clearance whenever vertical clearance is less than 50 feet, thus providing a minimum of 50 feet clearance between wingtips as well as the line of nose and tail under all formation flying conditions.

Taxiing Out

At H hour, all ships start engines and stand by on interphone frequency. The formation leader checks with all planes in his formation. After this he calls the tower and clears his formation for taxi and takeoff instructions. As he taxies out, No. 2 man follows, then No. 3, etc., each airplane taking the same place respectively on the ground that it is assigned in the air. As soon as the leader parks at an angle near the end of the takeoff strip, the other aircraft do likewise. At this point all aircraft run up engines and get ready for takeoff. The leader makes certain that everyone is ready to go before he pulls out on the takeoff strip.


Formation takeoffs should be cleared from an airdrome in a rapid and efficient manner. Individual takeoffs will be made. Therefore, the following method is suggested:

The leader goes into takeoff position and takes off at H hour. No. 2 man starts pulling into position as soon as the leader starts rolling. When the leader’s wheel leaves the runway, No. 2 starts taking off. (The time lapse is about 30 seconds.) The leader flies straight ahead at 150 mph, 300-500 feet per minute ascent, for one minute plus 30 seconds for each airplane in the formation. He levels off at 1000 feet above the terrain to prevent high rates of climb for succeeding aircraft. (Cruise at 150 mph.)

As soon as the leader has flown out his exact time, he makes a 180° half-needle-width turn to the left. The second airplane in formation assumes the outside or No. 2 position, while the third airplane assumes the inside or No. 3 position. The leader of the second element assumes position on the outside of the formation and his elements assemble on him in the same manner.

3-Airplane Vee

The 3-airplane Vee is the standard formation and the basic one from which other formations are developed. Variations of the Vee offer a concentration of firepower for defense under close control with sufficient maneuverability for all normal missions, and afford a bombing pattern which is most effective.

Flight of 6

formation of 6 aircraft is known as a flight or squadron, which is composed of two 3-airplane Vees. At least 50 feet vertical clearance will be maintained between elements in a flight and at least 50 feet horizontal clearance between the leader of the second element and wingmen of the first element.

From this basic squadron formation of 6 aircraft, the group, made up of 12 to 18 aircraft, is formed. Second or third flights will be echeloned right or left, up or down, with a vertical clearance of 150 feet and a horizontal clearance of 100 feet.

The high squadron flies 150 feet above and 100 feet behind the lead squadron with its second element stacked down and echeloned to the outside of the formation.

The low squadron flies 150 feet below and 100 feet behind the lead squadron with its second element stacked down and echeloned to the outside of the formation.

Flights may be placed in the high or low positions, as desired by the leader, by order over radio and receipt of acknowledgment. The flights simply go up or down in their respective positions. In this formation the positions of individual airplanes in each element will be those always flown in the 3-airplane Vee.

With but small variations, this basic formation can be changed to the combat formations used overseas. It is the job of training to teach a basic formation which can be readily understood and flown by students and easily adapted to tactical use.

Spacing of Wing Positions

It is particularly important for the leader to avoid violent maneuvers or improper positions which will cause undue difficulty for the wingmen.

The spacing of the wing positions in Vee formation is:

  • Vertically: On the level of the lead airplane.
  • Laterally: Far enough to the side to ensure 50 feet clearance between the wingtip of the lead airplane and the wing airplane.
  • Longitudinally: Far enough to the rear to ensure 50 feet clearance between the tail of the lead airplane and the nose of the wing airplane.

Turns in Vee formation will maintain the relative position of all airplanes in the element. In other words, the wing airplanes will keep their wings parallel to the wings of the lead airplane and on the same plane.


A formation is in Trail when all airplanes are in the same line and slightly below the airplane ahead. The distance between airplanes will be such that the nose of each succeeding airplane is slightly to the rear of the tail of the airplane ahead. If this distance is too great the propeller wash of the airplane ahead will cause difficulty in maintaining position. This formation will be used only when there are from 3 to 6 aircraft involved for changing the lead, for changing wingmen, and for peel-off for landing (optional).

Changing Wing Position

When changing from Vee to Trail, the wingman into whom a turn is made while in Vee assumes the No. 2 position in Trail, while the outside man is in the No. 3 position in the Trail. When returning from Trail to Vee, the No. 3 man in Trail assumes the inside position of the Vee. Remember this, for it is the procedure for changing from Vee to Trail and from Trail to Vee. Also, it provides a method for changing wing positions in a Vee formation.

It is often desirable for a leader to change the wing position of his formation, i.e., to reverse the right and left positions. If this maneuver is not executed properly in accordance with a pre-arranged plan, there is danger of collision. A safe plan is for the leader to announce on the radio that the formation will go into Trail on his first turn. If the turn is executed to the right, it will result in the inside man, or No. 2 wingman, being No. 2 in the Trail, and the outside man, or No. 3 wingman, being No. 3 in the Trail when the turn is completed. The leader will then announce that the formation will re-form in Vee when the Trail executes a turn to the right. This second turn to the right will re-form the Vee with wingmen reversed.

As stated above, this will result in the No. 2 man of the Trail assuming the outside position of the Vee, and the No. 3 man of the Trail assuming the inside position of the Vee. It is desirable for the leader to designate the ultimate position each wingman will assume prior to each turn in order to ensure complete understanding.

Changing Lead

Formation will go into Trail from the usual 90° turn to the right or left. The leader of the formation will make a 45° turn to the leftand fly that heading for approximately 20 seconds or until such time as a turn back will place him in the rear of the formation. When the No. 1 airplane starts his 45° turn, the No. 2 plane in the Trail immediately becomes the leader of the formation and continues to fly straight ahead. At the end of 20 seconds, or thereabouts, the original leader turns back and takes up the No. 3 position in his element, or No. 6 position if in a flight of 6, and notifies the new leader that the maneuver is complete.


The formation will approach the field at an altitude of 1500 feet above the terrain in Vee in such a direction that two 90° turns, either right or left, can be made to bring the formation heading upwind in line with the runway on which the landing is to be made. The formation will go into Trail, stepped down, on the first 90° turn and the leader will order gears down as soon as the Trail has been formed, at which time the checklist may be started. The leader will then fly up to the runway and peel off to the left when he is directly over the spot on which he intends to land. Each succeeding plane will peel off without interval spacing achieved on first turn. The leader will put down 1/3 flaps, retard throttles, and make a continuous power let-down with just enough base leg to enable him to make a straight-away approach rather than a landing out of a turn, other ships in the formation spacing themselves and accomplishing the same approximate pattern of let-down and approach as their leader. There will be no more than 3 ships on the runway at the same time (one turning off, one midway, and one just landing).

Landing from Vee

The formation will approach the airdrome at an altitude of 1500 feet above the terrain into the wind up the landing runway, at which time the wheels will be ordered down by the leader and checklist accomplished. The second element will maintain assigned position echeloned to the right. The leader will call No. 3, when over the edge of the landing runway, to peel off, No. 3 acknowledging by peeling off. No. 1 follows; No. 2 following No. 1; No. 6 following No. 2 and so on. Approach and landing accomplished as outlined.

A Group Landing from Vee

The group will approach the airfield in an echelon of flights to the right. This echelon of flights will be accomplished by order of the leader by radio and acknowledged by the leader of flight indicated. The leader will have the formation with high squadron (flight) in second position, low squadron in third position still stacked down in low position, relative to leader’s flight, but maintaining position on high squadron. Each flight will land individually, the lead flight landing first as previously outlined. The high and low flights will complete a 360° turn and land in turn as shown by diagram.


In conclusion, it should be stated that a good formation is a safe formation. An air collision is the result of carelessness or lack of clear understanding between members of the formation. lf the simple rules, as outlined, are followed explicitly, there is no excuse for mistakes in the air. A mistake in formation flying may result in costly, irreparable loss of lives and equipment.

It should be reiterated that it is not a display of skill to fly too close; it is a display of bad judgment and lack of common sense.



Your airplane was designed to operate just as well at high altitude as at low altitude.

Your body wasn’t!

All organisms require oxygen to support life. At ground level you get plenty of oxygen from the surrounding air, which is packed down by the weight of the air above it.

As you go up there is less air above you. Therefore the air you breathe becomes thinner, your body is getting insufficient oxygen, and you begin to lose efficiency. At some altitude — varying with the individual — you’ll become unconscious, and then, unless you get some extra oxygen quick . . . that’s all, brother!

Remember, when the pressure of the air you’re breathing is less than the normal atmospheric pressure of 10,000 feet, you need extra oxygen.

Therefore, your airplane has an oxygen system to meet the requirements of your body and allow you to function normally.

The equipment is excellent, simple to operate, and safe for flights up to 40,000 feet. But it is not safe unless you understand it thoroughly and strictly observe the rules regarding its use.You can’t take shortcuts with oxygen and live to tell about it!

The lack of oxygen, known as anoxia, gives no warning. If it hits you, you won’t know it until your mates revive you from unconsciousness, if they can. Therefore, you must check the condition and operation of your equipment with extreme care, and continue to check it regularly as often as possible during flight.

Your oxygen mask is an item of personal issue. Take care of it. It’s as important as your life.

Before you use the mask in fight, have it fitted carefully by your personal equipment officer, or his qualified assistants. They will see that you have the right size, that it fits perfectly, and that the studs to hold it are properly fixed to your helmet.

Bring it in for re-checking whenever necessary. The straps will stretch slightly after a period of use. It’s a good idea to have the fit re-checked regularly whether you think it needs it or not.

Draw the mask before each mission. Return it to the supply room afterward. Equipment personnel will check it for repair and cleaning. But don’t assume that this procedure relieves you of the responsibility of your own regular inspection and care of the mask.

Before each mission, make the following checks on your mask:

  1. Look the mask and helmet over carefully for worn spots or worn straps, loose studs, or evidence of deterioration in facepiece and hose.
  2. Put the mask on carefully. Slip the edges of the facepiece under the helmet. Adjust the straps, if necessary, to get a good fit.
  3. Test for leaks. Hold your thumb over the end of the hose and breathe in gently. The mask should collapse on your face, with no air entering. Don’t inhale strongly because the mask would seal anyway in that case, even with a leak.
  4. Clip the end of the regulator hose to your jacket in such a position that you can move your head around fully without twisting or kinking the mask hose or pulling on the mask hose or the quick-disconnect. Get the personal equipment section to sew a tab on your jacket at the proper spot.
  5. See that the gasket is properly seated on the male end of the quick-disconnect fitting between mask and regulator hose. Plug in the fitting and test the pull. If it comes apart easily, spread the prongs with a knife blade. Note: This is only a temporary adjustment. As soon as possible, report the difficulty to the equipment men and let them replace the fitting if necessary.

General Tips:

  • Vapor in your breath will freeze in the mask at extremely low temperatures. If you detect freezing, squeeze the mask to prevent ice particles from clogging the oxygen inlet.
  • Don’t let anyone else wear your mask except in emergencies.
  • Keep it in the kit between flights, and keep it clean.
  • Report anything wrong with the functioning or condition of the mask when you turn it in after a flight.


Night Flying

Don’t fall for the belief, common among less experienced flyers, that “night flying is no different from day flying.” Night flying isdifferent from day flying. Your vision at night is different because you are using a different part of your eye. Unless lights are properly grouped (as on runways) or easily identifiable (horizons, large cities, towns, etc.), your visual references are diminished considerably. Finally, when visibility is reduced and you have no clearly defined horizon, night flying is instrument flying.

Illusions in Night Flying

Night flying can be much more confusing than simple instrument flight through clouds. Probably many of the accidents and fatalities that occur in night flying result from the fact that pilots rely too much on their vision and other senses rather than on instruments.

The inexperienced pilot is continually looking for some light on the ground by which he can orient himself. Unless he is flying near a large city where there are enough lights to make a good pattern, this practice of trying to orient himself in relation to the terrain is extremely hazardous. Many experienced pilots can tell how they have mistaken a star for a light beneath them, or how they thought lights were moving past, when actually their plane was turning about the lights.

The reason for the particular confusion in night flying is that a pilot’s eyes may deceive him. He does not have any definite horizon to use as a plane of orientation; he has only isolated points of light. His sensation may tell him that these light-points are in a completely different relationship. As a result, when the airplane does not react as he expects it to, he becomes completely confused. In addition, the inexperienced pilot usually forgets his instruments and is so busy looking around that he glances at the instrument panel only after he has become confused and is already in a bad situation.

The only solution for this is to watch the instrument panel, with only occasional glances out at the visual reference points. In night flying, use instruments as your major reference, and scattered lights only as a secondary reference.

Tips on Night Vision

Before flight don’t subject your eyes to any bright lights: brightly lighted rooms, wing light beams, bright cockpit lights, etc.

Turn out all unnecessary cockpit lights; dim instrument panel lights.

Read instruments, maps, and charts rapidly; then look away. Use red light within the airplane whenever possible.

Lack of oxygen seriously impairs vision. At 12,000 feet without oxygen, for instance, night vision is only 50% efficient. Use oxygen from the ground up on all night flights to altitude.

Night Vision Precautions

Be sure that goggles, side windows, and wind shields are kept scrupulously clean. Scattered light on unclean surfaces reduces the contrast between faint lights and their background.

Be sure that all fluorescent lights, winglights, navigation lights, passing light, cockpit light, and individual instrument lights are in operating order.

Be sure that pilot, copilot, and engineer have individual flashlights.

Check radio operation and set proper frequencies. Your radio is especially important at night.

Know your field layout, the proper relationship of taxi strips to runways, etc. It’s easy to become confused at night.


Obtain clearance from the tower before taxiing to the runway. Line up in the center of the runway and use runway lights for reference.

If visibility is poor and no horizon is visible, prepare to take off on instruments.

Maintain proper airspeed, but be sure you’re climbing. It is imperative to hold a constant heading until you reach sufficient altitude for the turn.

Post observers at the side windows and top turret to give warning if you are turning into the path of other aircraft.

Remember that, for safety, 145 mph is the recommended climbing speed at night.

Don’t start turns until you are at least 400 feet above the terrain. Don’t reduce power until 200 feet altitude has been reached.

Night Landings

  • Fly compass headings on the various legs of the traffic pattern.
  • To line up properly with the runway and avoid overshooting or undershooting, begin a medium turn on the final approachwhen the runway lights seem to separate. On the downwind and base legs, the runway lights seem to be in a single row. As the airplane comes nearer to the runway on the base leg, the lights begin to separate into 2 rows. This is the time to start the turn onto the approach.
  • Avoid a low approach at night. Maintain constant glide, constant airspeed, and constant rate of descent by making slight changes in power and attitude.
  • Don’t turn on wing lights while too high. They will become effective at 500 feet.
  • Don’t try to sight down the wing light beam. Use the whole lighted area ahead and below for reference. Don’t rely on winglights alone; use runway lights as a secondary reference. Winglights alone may induce you to level off for landing too late. Runway lights alone may cause you to level off too high, especially if there is haze or dust over the field.
  • If you are uncertain of your final approach, carry a little more power; this will prevent stalling out high. Carry power until you are sure of making contact with the ground. Avoid cutting power too high or too soon.
  • Check generators and batteries for proper operation. They carry a heavier load at night.
  • Check auxiliary power unit for operation in possible emergency. It should be on for all takeoffs and landing.

Taxiing Precautions

  • Keep use of landing lights while taxiing to a minimum; they burn out quickly. When taxiing use the winglights alternately as needed. This reduces the load that would be imposed on the electrical system by both lights. However, don’t hesitate to use both lights if you really need them.
  • Make frequent checks of wheels and tires, using flashlights if landing gear inspection lights are not installed.
  • Using your flashlight, check cowling for signs of engine roughness.
  • When taxiing close to obstructions or parked aircraft, see that members of the ground crew walk ahead of each wing and direct taxiing by means of light signals.
  • Be particularly careful in judging distance from other taxiing aircraft. Sudden closure of distance is difficult to notice at night.
  • In case of failure or weakening of brakes, stop immediately and have the airplane towed in to the line. Faulty brakes are always hazardous. They are certain to cause accidents when taxiing at night.


How to Ditch the B-17

Ditching [landing on water] drill is the responsibility of the pilot. Duties should be studied, altered if necessary to agree with any modifications, memorized, and practiced until each member of the crew performs them instinctively.

The pilot’s warning to prepare for ditching should be acknowledged by the crew in the order given here — copilot, navigator, bombardier, flight engineer, radio operator, ball turret gunner, right waist gunner, left waist gunner, and tail gunner, i.e., “Copilot ditching,” “Navigator ditching,” etc.

Upon acknowledgment crew members remove parachutes, loosen shirt collars and remove ties and oxygen masks unless above 12,000 feet. When preparations for ditching are begun above 12,000 feet, main oxygen supply or emergency oxygen bottle is used until notification by the pilot. All crew members wearing winter flying boots should remove them. No other clothing should be removed.

Releases on life rafts should not be pulled until the plane comes to rest.

Beware of puncturing rafts on wing and horizontal surfaces after launching. The dinghies should be tied together as soon as possible.

Injured men should get first consideration when leaving the airplane.

Life vests should not be inflated inside the plane unless the crew member is certain that the escape hatch through which he will exit is large enough to accommodate him with the vest inflated.

When personnel are in dinghy, stock of rations and equipment should be taken by the airplane commander (or copilot). Strict rationing must be maintained. Flares should be used sparingly and only if there is a reasonable chance that they will be seen by ships or aircraft. Don’t forget the Very pistol.

Lash the life rafts together.

Landing crosswind is recommended unless the wind exceeds about 30 mph, in which case land into the wind. In executing the crosswind landing, the pilot will line up with the lines of the crests, at any convenient altitude, adjust flaps, power settings, trim, and make the approach with a minimum rate of descent, with a minimum forward speed. Land on a crest parallel to the line of crests or troughs. Crabbing will be necessary to remain over the crest while making the approach.

Duties of the Crew

Airplane Commander

  1. Give “Prepare for ditching” warning over interphone; give altitude; sound ditching bell signal of six short rings.
  2. Fasten safety harness.
  3. Open and close window to ensure freedom of movement. Place ax handy for use in case of possible jamming.
  4. Order radio operator to ditching post.
  5. Order tail gunner to lower the tailwheel by cranking about 10 turns.
  6. 20 seconds before impact, order the crew to “brace for ditching.” Give long ring on signal bell.
  7. Release safety harness and parachute straps. Exit through side window when airplane comes to rest. Inflate life vest.
  8. Proceed to left dinghy, cut tie ropes. Take command.


  1. Assists pilot to fasten safety harness.
  2. Fastens own safety harness, opens and closes right window to ensure freedom of movement.
  3. Releases safety harness, parachute straps, exits through right window when plane comes to rest. Inflates life vest.
  4. Proceeds to right dinghy, cuts ropes. Takes command.


  1. Calculates position, course, speed, giving this information to the radio operator. Destroys secret papers. Gathers maps and celestial equipment. Gives wind and direction to the pilot.
  2. Proceeds to radio compartment. Closes radio compartment door.
  3. Attaches rope on emergency radio equipment and signal set (if radio is stored in radio compartment).
  4. Assumes ditching position.
  5. Hands the following items in the order given to the bombardier, who is already out: signal set and emergency radio, ration kits, navigation kits, parachutes.
  6. Exits through radio hatch and goes to left dinghy.


  1. Jettisons bombs, closes bomb bay doors, destroys bombsight, goes to radio compartment, closing compartment door. Takes first-aid kits to radio compartment.
  2. Takes position, partially inflates life vest by pulling cord on one side.
  3. Directs and assists exit of men through radio hatch. Stands above and forward of hatch and receives equipment from navigator and hands it to crew members as follows: signal set and radio to radio operator; ration kit No. 1 to tail gunner; ration kit No. 2 to right waist gunner; navigation kit to ball turret gunner; pigeon crate to left waist gunner. Assists flight engineer in making exit.
  4. Goes to right dinghy.

Flight Engineer

  1. Jettisons ammunition and loose equipment, turns top turret guns to depressed position pointing forward.
  2. Goes to radio compartment. Lowers the radio hatch and moves it to the rear of the plane, jettisons loose equipment in radio compartment, and slides back top gun.
  3. Stands with back to aft door of radio compartment and assists other members out by boosting them.
  4. Last man to leave radio compartment, with bombardier’s help. Goes to left dinghy.

Radio Operator

  1. Switches on liaison transmitter (tuned to MFDF) sends SOS, position and call sign continuously, turns IFF to distress, remains on intercom, transmits all information given by navigator.
  2. Obtains MFDF fix, continues SOS, remains on intercom.
  3. On pilot’s order clamps key, takes ditching position, inflating life vest partially, remains on intercom, repeating pilot’s “Brace for ditching” to crew.
  4. Receives signal kit and emergency radio from bombardier.
  5. Assists with dinghy inflation and inspects for leaks.
  6. Goes to right dinghy.

Ball Turret Gunner

  1. Turns turret guns aft, closes turret tightly, goes to radio compartment with first-aid kits and ration kits.
  2. Pulls both dinghy releases as aircraft comes to rest.
  3. Goes to left dinghy.

Right Waist Gunner

  1. Jettisons his gun, ammunition, all loose equipment.
  2. Closes right waist window tightly, goes to radio compartment, collecting emergency radio and signal box in fuselage (if radio is stored elsewhere than in radio compartment).
  3. Takes position, partially inflates vest.
  4. Assists in inflating right dinghy, inspects for leaks, applying stoppers if necessary.

Left Waist Gunner

  1. Jettisons his gun, ammunition, loose equipment, closes left waist window, goes to radio compartment.
  2. Partially inflates vest.
  3. Receives pigeon crate from bombardier.
  4. Goes to right dinghy.

Tail Gunner

  1. Jettisons ammunition; goes forward, cranks down tailwheel about 10 turns; collects emergency ration pack (stowed in fuselage); is last to enter radio compartment.
  2. Takes position, partially inflates life vest.
  3. Carrying ration pack, goes to left dinghy, assists with dinghy inflation, inspects for leaks

Crew Positions for Ditching

The positions illustrated should best enable crew members to withstand the impact of crash landings on either land or water. On water, 2 impacts will be felt, the first a mild jolt when the tail strikes, the second a severe shock when the nose strikes the water. Positions should be maintained until the aircraft comes to rest. Study them carefully.

Emergency equipment for use in the dinghy should be carried to crash positions. Any equipment carried free must be held securely during ditching to prevent injury.

Parachute pads, seat cushions, etc., should be used to protect the face, head, and back.


Crash Landings

No procedure can be established which will fit all cases. The following is a summary of the steps which should be taken if time permits. The airplane commander will exercise his authority to alter this procedure wherever necessary.

Airplane Commander Will:

  1. Notify crew by interphone or oral communication between crew members that crash landing will be made.
  2. Notify bombardier to release bombs or bomb bay tanks. (If possible, drop them in uninhabited or enemy territory.) Then close the bomb bay doors.
  3. Make a normal slow landing, with flaps down and landing gear up.

The Copilot Will:

  1. Turn master switch and battery switches “OFF” after operation of necessary electrical equipment such as flaps, radio, gear, landing lights, etc., when it is certain that there will be no further need for the operating engines.
  2. Assist airplane commander as directed.

The Bombardier Will:

  1. Check with airplane commander to determine if auxiliary gas and/or bombs are to be dropped.
  2. Release bombs or tanks. Close bomb bay doors.
  3. Proceed to radio compartment.

The Engineer Will:

  1. See that each enlisted man in the radio compartment is properly braced for impact.
  2. See that doors from radio compartment of airplane into bomb bay, and from bomb bay into control cabin, are locked open.
  3. See that all emergency exits are opened, but not freed from airplane. A door that is cast free may damage the control surfaces.

The Navigator Will:

  1. Determine position if time permits.
  2. Proceed to rear compartment.
  3. Direct radio operator to send distress message, giving all pertinent information.

Abandoning Airplane Following Crash Landing on Land

  1. All preparation for abandoning ship has been made during the approach. After landing, little can be done except to get out as quickly as possible.
  2. Crew members will take fire extinguishers, if available, with them when leaving the airplane. This may enable them to put out a small fire and rescue personnel trapped in the airplane.
  3. Dispose of all classified material in accordance with Army Regulation 380-5.


How to Bail Out Of the B-17

When an emergency develops and it becomes necessary to abandon the airplane in flight, there is no time for confusion or second guessing. Procedure of the entire crew in bailing out of the airplane must be almost automatic. Each crew member must know:

  1. His duties
  2. Through what hatch he is supposed to exit
  3. How to bail out, open his parachute, and land

As airplane commander, your first responsibility is to be sure that your crew is thoroughly trained, by regular ground drill, in the proper procedure for bailing out of the B-17.

Before taking off on any flight make absolutely sure that:

  • An assigned parachute, properly fitted to the individual, is aboard the airplane for each person making the flight.
  • The assigned parachute is convenient to the normal position in the airplane occupied by the person to whom it is assigned.
  • Each person aboard (particularly if he is a passenger or a new crew member who has not taken part in your regular ground drill) is familiar with bailout signals, bailout procedure, and use of the parachute.

Duties of the Crew

The Airplane Commander

  1. Notify crew to stand by to abandon ship. The bell signal consists of three short rings on alarm bell. At first alarm all crew members put on parachutes.
  2. Notify crew to abandon ship. Bell signal consists of one long ring on alarm bell.
  3. Check abandoning of airplane by crew members in nose.
  4. Clear bomb bay of tanks and bombs, using emergency release handle.
  5. Turn on autopilot.
  6. Reduce airspeed if possible. Hold ship level.

Copilot’s Duties

  1. Assist airplane commander as directed.

Navigator’s Duties

  1. Determine position, if time permits.
  2. Direct radio operator to send distress message giving all pertinent information.
  3. Stand by emergency exit in nose of airplane.

Bombardier’s Duties

  1. Assist navigator.
  2. Stand by emergency exit in nose of airplane.

Engineer’s Duties

  1. Assist pilot as directed.
  2. Notify pilot when crew in nose has abandoned the airplane.
  3. Stand by to leave via bomb bay immediately after crew in nose has abandoned airplane.

Radio Operator’s Duties

  1. Find exact position from navigator.
  2. Send distress call.
  3. Stand by to leave via bomb bay.

Ball Turret Gunner’s Duties

  1. Stand by to leave via main entrance door, or most practical rear exit as occasion demands.

Left Waist Gunner’s Duties

  1. Stand by to leave first via main entrance door.

Right Waist Gunner’s Duties

  1. Stand by to leave second via main entrance door.

Tail Gunner’s Duties

  1. Stand by to leave via tail gunner’s emergency exit.

Don't just stand there.