I was being very cautious,

and was patrolling to the rear and the sides in my top turret. I noticed a speck which turned out to be a 110. It flew around out there for a while, sizing things up, and finally decided to attack. Why it came in from this angle I'll never know…but it came in to about 100 or 150 yards, still four o'clock high, and then pulled up and to the right. Of course all the top turrets, right waist guns, and any other gun that could get on it was firing. It was the perfect target and there was no way it could get through all those .50s. My right waist gunner, Kurt Backert, saw it crash in the woods with field glasses.

From “Half a Wing, Three Engines and a Prayer, B-17s over Germany” by Brian D. O'neill.

The flight engineer on the B-17 was like a flying ground crewman. He had to know the intricate workings of the Flying Fortress and would assist the pilots with monitoring the mechanical operation of the aircraft. If battle damage severed control cables, started a fuel leak, prevented the landing gear from being dropped, jammed a turret, or caused one of a thousand other problems, it was the flight engineer's job to try and fix it. He could transfer fuel if a fuel tank began to leak. Any fires that started in the bomb bay or on the flight deck were attended to by him. If a control cable had a problem, he would be the one to run back into the aircraft and try to make the repair. A good flight engineer sometimes meant the difference between a plane making it home or not.

View from just below the top turret. Here you can see the turret controls in the bottom of the picture. At the top left and top right sides of the picture are the .50 caliber machine guns for the top turret. Towards the center you can see the ammunition feeds for the guns.

On top of this, the flight engineer had to be a crack gunner as well for he manned perhaps the most crucial defensive position in the entire aircraft, the top turret. This position was so vital because it was the only one that could cover the front, rear and both sides of the aircraft from level on up. Since enemy fighters usually liked to approach a target from above, this made the top turret a very important position indeed. Once the Luftwaffe realized that the front of the Flying Fortress was not well defended and began attacking from the famous 12 o'clock high position, the top turret became even more crucial as it had the best chance of fighting off these attacks. That being said though, because the flight engineer could be pulled out of the turret to work on more pressing issues, like keeping the plane flying, other gunners were trained in the top turret's operation to ensure that the turret would always be manned regardless of what was going on elsewhere in the aircraft.

Because of the engineer's location relative to the pilots, he was usually the voice of the enlisted part of the crew. Usually he held a higher rank than the other enlisted men but this was not always the case. The flight engineer would watch engine gauges and alert the pilots to any potential problems during the mission. Because of the demands of formation flying, the flight engineer was a much needed extra set of eyes for the heavily worked pilots.

Like all gunners, the flight engineer was also responsible for the maintenance of his position's weapons. He would check the barrels before each flight and stow them away after every mission.

As was mentioned before, the flight engineer was and enlisted man's positon usually with a rank of Sergeant or higher.


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