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Making a good story great often involves including details of the story such as demographics and personal characteristics of the plot’s time and place. It’s for this reason that I typically write of places I’ve been and things in which I’m well versed. Otherwise, I depend on research. When writing my current historical -fiction novel “Team” which takes place in the 1940s, I’m depending more on research, since I wasn’t alive. The players and football weren’t hard to do, since I’d played football most my life. I t was the airplanes and their missions which required research.

Even the airplane in “Team”, the B-17 “Flying Fortress” wasn’t completely new yo me. I had written numerous papers in high school and college regarding the strategic bombing of Europe during World War Two in which the B-17 was used. Still, I had never been in one. Fortunately, there is a Yankee Air Museum near my home where they have one of the few remaining B-17s, “The Yankee Lady” in which you can take a ride, see my May, 2018 blog on “Riding the Yankee Lady.” Sitting in the museum’s hanger was a WWII B-25 medium bomber. The museum kept sending me photos of the B-17 and B-25 together in hopes of raising funds for a new hanger.

Staring at those photos made me recall some of the B-25 experiments the Navy tried in the Pacific against the Japanese. I recalled reading how they’d replaced the entire nose/bomber’s section of the B-25 with machine guns, and even a 75mm cannon (the same one used in the Sherman tank). All this armament was fired from the cockpit by the pilot. There was no need for bombs, since the guns could punch holes in the thin hulls of Japanese transports. This B-25 design was deemed a success by the Navy, and made standard in the B-25G (gun ship).

Having recalled that the B25 gunship was a success, I wondered if they’d ever tried to make a gunship out of the already heavily-fortified B-17. Turns out they did! Research showed that the experimental gunship version of the B-17 bomber was designated the XP-40 :( X for experimental). That was changed to the YB-40 (Y for service test) after Lockheed’s Vega Company modified a B-17F into a gunship.

The early service of the B-17 bombing in 1942 and 1943 Europe was a mixed success. It didn’t take long for the Germans to figure out that the B-17 defenses were weak from the front. They began attacking from forward positions at 5% above, the bombers in an attempt to kill the pilots. This strategy was so successful, the U.S. Amy Air force determined they needed an escort plane to defend the bombers. The escort fighters weren’t available at the time, so the YB-40 was developed as a bomber escort, in the V-139 Project.

The YB-40 was a production B-17F with the addition of a dorsal turret containing two .50 caliber M2 machine guns where the radio .operator’s single M2 had been. A Bendix “chin” turret was added beneath the bombardier’s nose position containing two more M2s. Additional M2s were added to the wrist and waist gun position. In total, the YB-40 could carry up to thirty M2 machine guns. It had so many guns sticking out of the fuselage, it was called, “the flying hedgehog.” The bomb bay was used as ammunition storage, so the airplane could carry 10,700 rounds Additional armor was added to protect the crew of ten. All this additional weaponry and armor came at a cost. The YB had half the climb rate of the B-17. It was so slow that it couldn’t keep up with the lighter B-17s for the return trip home after they’d dropped their bombs.

The YB-40 showed limited success. During the 48 sorties the escort was used, it shot down five enemy fighters, two probable with only one loss of one to flak.
In the end, only 25 YB40s were built. Only the “chin” turret was eventual implemented in the B-17G.

Researching this airplane was a plot changer for TEAM, so research pays off.