398th Bomb Group

The Little Engine That Could…. And Did

George R. Hilliard
Flight Line Chief, 603 Squadron, 398th Bomb Group
Eighth AF Station 131, Nuthampstead, England

When the subject of aircraft performance is discussed, we seldom hear about the power plant that propelled our B-17 Flying Fortresses through the air. The B-17G was equipped with a Wright Cyclone R-1820-97, a nine cylinder radial engine with 1,000 GP. With the addition of the turbo supercharger, Honeywell controls and the paddle propeller, the B-17G could reach an altitude of 35,000 feet with a full bomb load. Under ideal conditions, the B-17G could reach a maximum speed of 302 miles per hour and cruise at 160 miles per hour with a range of 3,750 miles.

The Wright Cyclone R-18200-97 could take a lot of punishment as long as long as it had sufficient oil in the tank. Sometimes the rocker boxes would take a flak hit and when it landed, the oil would squirt from the damaged rocker box each time the piston would come up on the compression stroke. When the engine ran out of oil, the crankshaft would get so hot that it would break off on landing and sending the propeller skipping across the runway.

The R-1820-97 was not considered a frugal engine for fuel, although fuel consumption during World War II days was not a factor as it is today. Records show that the 398th Bomb Group, during a one-month period from May 6 to June 6, 1944, consumed 901,994 gallons of 100 octane gasoline. Wright Cyclones also powered the B-29 Superfortress with the R-3350 engine. This was a 2,000 horse power, 18-cylinder Duplex. Later came the R-4360, a 28-cylinder engine that turned out 3,500 horse power which was used on then C-124 Globe master airplane.

But for those of us who flew or serviced the B-17G, we can be grateful for the technical knowledge and research that went into “the little engine that could … and did.” The many of us who had the job working on the R-1820’s felt that it was the right engine for the right airplane at the right time.

And this went not only for the engine, the airplane, and the time, but also for the men who were there to maintain service and change those Cyclones. Whether they were out on the line in the various squadron areas or at the 478th Sub-Depot, they all took great pride in keeping those engines running.

And not to forget the others on the ground who did their parts in the overall picture of winning the war. These would be those from the 325 Station Complement, 1142nd MP Squadron, 860 Chemical, 426th Air Service Group, 1149 Ordnance, 18th Weather Squadron, 244 Medical and 1226th Quartermaster.

They all could …. and did.

Submitted by Wally Blackwell, abstracted from the April 1994 issue of the Flak News.

George and Elaine Hilliard

Blood and Guts Before

Top: Frank Hopp (Radio Operator)
Middle: Ray E. Bailey (Flight Chief)
Right: George Hilliard (Flight Chief)

Blood and Guts After - November 21, 1944

Crashlanded at Ursel, Belgium (Near Bruges). Raid on Merseburg, Germany

Printed in Flak News Volume 9, Number 2, Page(s) 8, April 1994

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