The Military Museums

B-17 Flying Fortress

The Boeing Model 299 B-17 Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber developed for the US Army Air Corps (USAAC).

B-17 Flying Fortress

The Boeing Model 299 B-17 Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber developed for the US Army Air Corps (USAAC).

B-17 Flying Fortress

Richard Williams, a reporter for the Seattle Times coined the name "Flying Fortress" when the Model 299 was rolled out, bristling with multiple machine gun installations. Boeing was quick to see the value of the name and had it trademarked.


The Canadian B-17

Boeing built almost 13,000 aircraft. It is probably the best know wartime US bomber even though nearly 19,000 Consolidated B-24 Liberators were built. The B-17 flew mainly in the daylight precision bombing campaign against German industrial and civilian targets by the US Eighth Air Force based in England and the Fifteenth Air Force based in Italy as a complement to the night time operations of the RAF Bomber Command.

The B-17 also flew with the RAF on anti-submarine duties and as a bomber in the Pacific campaign. It was a favourite of many who flew it particularly because of its amazing reputation for survival and bringing its crew home in spite of heavy damage from enemy fire, collision or harsh weather.

The RCAF use of the B-17 was modest in numbers but in reality it was a tremendous morale booster, carrying millions of letters from home to members of the Canadian Forces in Europe, the Middle and Far East and return mail to their loved ones.

On December 4, 1943, the Royal Canadian Air Force received its first of six used unarmed Boeing B-17 Fortress bombers from the US Army Air Force Training Command for service as a long range transports with No.168 Heavy Transport Squadron based at RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ottawa, Ontario, for use on the RCAF Overseas Mail Service.

Within two weeks one of the aircraft had been refurbished and on December 15, 1943 Wing Commander Robert Bruce Middleton of Souris, Manitoba left Rockcliffe airport in Ottawa in the converted Boeing B-17 Fortress transport to fly the first overseas operation flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force for "Mailcan", as it quickly became known.

The aircraft carried 190 bags (5,500 pounds) of Christmas mail for Canadian servicemen overseas via Dorval, Qu├ębec, Gander, Newfoundland and Prestwick, Scotland. A second RCAF Fortress carrying mail continued on through North Africa to the Middle East.

On January 10, 1944, a Canadian B-17 Fortress transport made the first return "Mailcan" operation back to Canada from overseas landing at Rockcliffe airport in Ottawa with 1,400,000 letters from Canadian servicemen overseas for delivery in Canada.

Over the ensuring months the six Fortresses (including 3 lost on operations) made 240 trans-Atlantic crossings flying variously to Iceland, Scotland, England, North Africa, Azores, Egypt, Italy, often in bad weather, carrying the majority of the mail delivered by No.168 Squadron. The last RCAF Fortress was retired in 1946.

Frederick Walter Hill

Fred Hill was born in Regina, Saskatchewan on Sept 2, 1920. While attending Harvard Business School in 1942, Fred joined the US Army Air Force piloting B-17 Flying Fortress Bombers while serving in the 15th Air Force in Italy and the 8th Air Force in England. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf Clusters.

Upon graduating with distinction from Harvard with an MBA in 1947, Fred returned to Saskatchewan to join his fathers real estate and insurance business. Fred was a director of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. He also received the Order of Canada and the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, the Canada 125 Medal and the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal.

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