I chose the B-17 for my Promise For Tomorrow series because I was most familiar with big bomber. I’d read Robert Vaughan’s Touch the Face of God and loved it. The B-17’s crew of nine or ten men offered a supporting cast of characters for my hero to interact with. And it looks good. The other big American bomber, the B-24, was nicknamed the pregnant cow. Does that sound like an appealing star vehicle?
Although I didn’t know it when I wrote Friends & Enemies, other authors also featured the B-17. If I were to start over, I might use the B-26 Marauder, a medium bomber. The B-25 Mitchell is famous for Doolittle’s raid on Japan in April, 1942, but who’s familiar with the B-26?
The B-26 was nicknamed the Widow Maker. It required a higher landing speed than most bombers and demanded maximum attention to the airspeed indicator on final approach and landing. The motto at the main training base in Tampa, Florida, was “One a Day in Tampa Bay.”
Congress considered cancelling B-26 production , but General Doolittle proved it was a formidable weapon and needed only upgraded training and slight airframe correction. A demonstration of a B-26 maneuvering on one engine showed it could be handled safely. The plane was removed from the congressional hit list, and modifications were complete by February, 1943.
Pilots received better training in knowledge of aircraft handling and engine performance anomalies. Aerodynamic modifications increased the wingspan along with larger fins and rudders. With its improved take-off, landing, and handling, the Marauder gained a reputation for reliability and performance.
The operational loss rate of the B-26 throughout the war was .422%, best of any WWII bomber. Many of the planes flew over one hundred missions.
Few exist today. Only one, at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida, is flyable.
I like to highlight lesser known aspects of World War II. I missed my chance with the Marauder.
for further reading: Back From 44: The Sacrifice and Courage of a Few by Nick Cressy, an airman's memoir
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