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The Toughest Plane Ever Built?

Posted July 28, 2011 7:50 AM

From Wired Top Stories:

The B-17 "Flying Fortress" -- the U.S. workhorse of World War II -- often returned to the ground after suffering severe damage. Blogger David Dobbs, whose mother had an affair with a wartime flight surgeon, recounts some of the aircraft's closest calls.

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#1

Re: The Toughest Plane Ever Built?

07/29/2011 12:31 AM

Overall, biplanes are stronger, but they do depend heavily on each component. Some crop dusters are notably rugged in accidents. However, the champion for damage tolerance may actually be the Wellington bomber. It was designed using geodetic construction by Barnes Wallis in the 30s. With no main spar, you could tear a large hole in it anywhere, or many wheres, and only affect the strength in proportion to the material removed, and the hole shape. The frame looks like a high-frequency geodesic dome distorted into an aircraft shape, and of course the skin was also structural.

Mr. Wallis had been assured that bombers would only be used for precise attacks on military targets, and was, of course, appalled at what happened. So, he went on to design the dambuster bomb, and then the Tallboy and Grand Slam bombs, which all did great damage to military targets, with little loss of life. These all relied upon achieving a well-enclosed explosion, and were too expensive to waste on housing.

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#2

Re: The Toughest Plane Ever Built?

07/29/2011 12:21 PM

After been a volunteer worker on the Boeing B-17G "Fuddy Duddy" in the 1980's and 1990's, owned then by the now defunct National Warplane Museum (Geneseo NY, and later Elmira NY), I can attest to the strength of that particular airframe. It's one tough SOB if there ever was one! Many structural components and controls were indeed robust and in most cases redundant.

It would be difficult even for an aerospace engineer to come up with a definitive winner of "toughest plane ever built", as each and every airframe ever conceived, built and flown has it's own strengths and weaknesses.

My vote actually goes to another Boeing Aircraft Co. design, the B-52 which has been flying and fighting almost since it's service inception in the USAF in the late 50's and early 60's. The older B-52D and E airframes have long been relegated to the Boneyard at Davis-Mothan AFB located outside Tuscan AZ....their fates sealed by the SALT agreements where they're been either chopped up for disposal or used for Hanger Queen parts to be used to repair the last operational BUFFS in the USAF inventory. The current fleet of what is left of the once massive fleet of B-52s in the USAF is almost 50 years young (both variants built in the early 1960's) and still delivering ordinance in SW Asia and greatly feared by Al Queda and the Taliban: the B-52G & B-52H Stratofortress! Now that is robust!!! To still be capable of carrying 108 750# gravity iron bombs for thousands of air miles, deliver them on-target with near pinpoint accuracy, and then fly home to their bases in the States speaks volumes as to how tough this aircraft has been and continues to be. The USAF fully intends to keep them in their inventory until 2050 or thereabouts....the airframe will be almost 90 years old then....the design over 100 years old! WOWSERS!!!!

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Guru
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#3

Re: The Toughest Plane Ever Built?

07/30/2011 9:14 PM

Another story that falls apart (pun intended) when you really look at the statistics. With 12,731 B-17 built there was bound to be some phenomenal survivor stories. Now the B-24 was more of a mass produced bird compared to the B-17 but it was far from fragile and had quite a few spectacular survivor stories, too. From http://www.ww2aircraft.net/forum/aircraft-pictures/battle-damaged-aircraft-ww2-15431-33.html I found this B-24 image.

Now both of these WWII birds were sub-sonic planes that would fall to pieces in a dive that exceeded the sound barrier. So one could easily argue that the Bell X-1 was a tougher plane because it survived super-sonic flight before people had a good understanding of the stresses applied to an aircraft's control surfaces at these speeds.

CaptMoosie also has a good candidate with the long lived B-52. But let's not forget that our allies have built some phenomenally tough birds. The Panavia Tornado was designed for low level super-sonic bombing of air fields and defenses. That's a pretty tough assignment. My personal choice though is the A10 Thunderbolt II. This modern sub-sonic ground attack plane is designed to survive with either the left or right half of the plane gone. Well, you do have to have most of key parts of the fuselage intact or the pilot falls out.

So as CaptMoosie correctly put it, calling any plane "the toughest plane ever built" is very difficult to really call. Frankly it sounds more like a boast from a fool looking to start a fight.

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#4

Re: The Toughest Plane Ever Built?

07/31/2011 10:20 PM

redfred, I think you're onto something here by mentioning the Panavia Tornado and the A-10. Another couple of aircraft that would certainly qualify would be the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, the Republic F-105 Thunderchief (my uncle flew them in 'Nam......F-105G Wild Weasel missions) and the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark (incl. the FB-111A SACVARK).

All in all, I'd place my bets on the Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II. During the air war campaign of Desert Storm, my unit was initially located very near to the Royal Saudi Prince Sultan Air Base located near Al-Kharj. A-10s and F-16s from the USAF and USAFR were stationed there. So was my brother, a F-16 pilot flying with the 17th Tactical Fighter Wing "The Hooters" (Shaw AFB, SC). On several occasions while visiting with my baby bro I saw A-10 Warthogs landing that were all shot-up to hell. They shouldn't have been flying back with such battle damage, but then again, they were "Hogs". In my mind it's one of toughest military aircraft of all time.

Every time I run into an ex-Hog driver or current driver at the VFW hall or elsewhere I always buy that guy a brew. A-10 pilots saved my bacon, and those of my troops under my command during DS, after we called in Close Air Support (CAS) while overrunning the Iraqi Air Base at Tahill. The true sound of freedom is the chainsaw-like sound of the Hog's 30mm AGU-8 Avenger cannon eating up the enemy and the real estate under his feet. There is no other sound in the world like that sound!

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