Reengineering history: What can we learn from a photographed B-17 “Flying Fortress” in-flight structural failure?

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Historical research is defined as the process of critical inquiry into past events to produce an accurate description and interpretation of those events. While using different information sources an attempt is made to reconstruct what happened during a certain period of time as completely and accurately as possible. The purpose of historical research is to make people aware of what has happened in the past in order to, for example, to learn from past failures and successes and apply them to present-day problems. Historical research is similar to Forensic Engineering which tries with the application of engineering principles to investigate failures with the goal to understand and prevent future events. An interesting example is the B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber. Despite setbacks and crashes of the prototypes, it eventually became the iconic bomber ofWorldWar II. Nearly 13,000 bombers were built and a few of them are still flying today. During its operational service above the European theater in World War II the B-17 was hit and damaged many times. In some cases, an aircraft could return to its home base, in other instances, the damage was too great and the aircraft crashed and was destroyed. The focus of this paper is an accident which happened on May 19th 1944, when the left horizontal stabilizer of a B-17 was hit by a bomb dropped from another B-17 flying in formation above. This event was captured by a camera located behind bomb bay which show the sequence of events in several photographs. Historical background information about the B-17 will be used to understand how it was designed with emphasis on the horizontal stabilizer. Using a forensic engineering perspective, this information will be used to understand and attempt to explain what happened. The B-17 stabilizer bomb impact event is part of an ongoing research project.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2018 AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting 8–12 January 2018, Kissimmee, Florida
PublisherAmerican Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Inc. (AIAA)
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-62410-524-1
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Event56th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting - Kissimmee, United States
Duration: 8 Jan 201812 Jan 2018
Conference number: 56


Conference56th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting
CountryUnited States
Internet address


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