It is rare to get one's hands-on war relics. Rifles might still be a bit easier, but tanks and aircraft are usually found in military museums and barely anywhere near their prime. But for the handsome price tag of $9 million, you can own a piece of aviation history that is fully restored to its former glory. A rare unit of the B-17E, that was built in Seattle and used to further the autopilot system, is now almost restored and available for sale.
The Flying Fortress
The Flying Fortress, B-17E, was designed by Boeing in response to the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) tender for long-range bombers. While Douglas and Lockheed developed their versions, powered by four engines, the B-17E was the clear winner. Boeing says that the prototype went from design to first flight in less than 12 months. However, the bulk of manufacturing for the B-17E's happened at Douglas and Lockheed under a licensing agreement.
Boeing gave up its open cockpit design to make way for the first flight deck on this plane. The B-17's entered combat when Britain's Royal Air Force deployed them for high-altitude missions in 1941. With the increase in war intensity, the bombers needed more armor and armament. The number of machine guns carried on the aircraft increased progressively, maxing at nine for the B-17E. Known for its elongated tail that gave it better stability and control during flight, the aircraft earned a deadly reputation during the war.
The B-17E up for sale, however, has little combat experience. Made at Boeing's Seattle facility, it was one of the last flights in production. It was inducted by The U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) in May 1942 but loaned out to Honeywell in October that year.
Honeywell was developing an electronic model, the Automatic Flight Control Equipment (AFCE), C-1, to work in conjunction with the Norden mechanical autopilot and help in the reduction of fatigue for bomber pilots during their long missions. This B-17 was likely involved in the testing, development, and demonstration of the Norden/ C-1 combination and took multiple flights in the summer of 1943. Until 1945, it was also deployed to test other Honeywell innovations such as the Formation Stick, electronic turbo -supercharger control system, blind landing equipment, and electronic capacitance fuel gauge, totaling about 1800 test flight hours.
In September 1945, the aircraft was sold to the University of Minnesota for 'instructional purposes' for a paltry $350 and exchanged in 1952 for a Cessna 170-B, which was more "flyable" for aspiring flyers at the university. In the years that followed, the aircraft got some much-needed repairs from Honeywell before passing through multiple owners and landing in Canada to perform civilian aerial surveys until 1964.
The aircraft then received a cargo registration in Bolivia and was used to ferry passengers and freight until 1972 and meat and other perishables until 1974, before suffering a landing gear failure. After major repairs, the B-17 was put back in service but crashed again in 1976 after completing 12,448 flight hours.
After the crash, the aircraft wasn't repaired back to full potential until December 1989, when it flew again, this time, to Florida in the US in January of 1990 and then later to its origin city of Seattle in 1998. Vintage Airframes, have restored 80 percent of the plane back using the right engines and propellers and work on further restoration, once the sale is completed.