Best and Worst B-17 Crew Positions

Best and Worst B-17 Crew Positions | World War Wings Videos

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The B-17 Flying Fortress is one of the most iconic planes of WWII, and each aircraft would make up a large crew that took up various roles. But are any of these positions safer than others? 


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The pilot was responsible for the entire plane and everything that took place on board. The pilot’s role wasn’t just to fly the plane but to ensure the safety of the whole crew.

Of the 1,117 casualties in a survey, pilots make up 7.3% of those killed and 7.4% wounded. 


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The co-pilot was second in command of the plane and was in a position to take control of it if the pilot got killed or wounded. 5.5% of them were killed and 6.8% were wounded. 


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The navigator’s role was to utilize resources to plot a course for the plane on its mission to reach the target, avoiding heavily defended enemy locations, and navigating a safe passage back home. 

Navigators would make up 11.8% killed and 12.2% were wounded. 


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The bombardier sat in front of the navigator and positioned furthest forward in the aircraft. On a bombing run, he would release the bombs to hit the target. 

16.3% of Bombardiers were killed and 17.7% were wounded. 

Flight Engineer

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Flight Engineers are responsible for the aircraft’s mechanics. 9.1% flight engineers got killed and 8.3% were wounded. 

Radio Operator

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Radio operators are quite in an isolated position in the middle of the aircraft. They would handle communications from their plane to those of their formation. Statistically, 7.3% of these operators were killed in action and 8.6% were wounded. 

Waist Gunner

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This position is usually made up of two men who each had a machine gun on each side of the plane. Because of their position in the aircraft coupled with enemy attacks on this position, they suffered high casualties with 19% killed and 21.1% wounded. 

Belly Gunner

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Belly gunners were positioned directly under the aircraft in its midsection. It was suggested this was the worst position to be in and the men occupying this role were small in stature due to the ball’s small turret that had to be squeezed into.

Despite their exposed position and its poor reputation, the statistics say otherwise, with only 6.4% belly gunners killed in action and 5.9% wounded. 

Tail Gunner

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Tail gunners are in charge of a machine gun facing rearward and provided the rest of the crew with updates on enemy movements. They make up 7.3% killed and 12% wounded. 

It’s worth noting though that these statistics were only given in 90 days in 1944 Europe, and could be different if it was given in the Pacific theater in a different period. 

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