Home » The longest B-17 mission was flown by the Fulton-equipped B-17 when rescued Agent 007

The longest B-17 mission was flown by the Fulton-equipped B-17 when rescued Agent 007

by Till Daisd
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The long-endurance flights of the B-17 were made possible by the placement of another additional fuel tank in the bomb bay

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) formed an uneasy alliance with the nationalist Chinese government in Taiwan after Mao’s communists seized power in mainland China in 1949.

The Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) and the CIA joined forces to construct the Black Bat Squadron, also known as the 34th Squadron, in 1953. Its duty was to conduct covert aviation operations over the mainland, using B-17s, B-26s, and P-2s to drop agents’ propaganda and gather signals, images, and nuclear intelligence.

By May 1959, the 34th Squadron had just one remaining example of B-17. Former 34th Squadron crew member recalls in Chris Pocock and Clarence Fu’s book The Black Bats CIA Spy Flights over China from Taiwan 1951-1969;

“We were preparing to send our last B-17 back to the US. A Chinese crew stripped the airplane of all the ELINT equipment. But after this work, someone forgot to reconnect the airspeed line to the pilot tube. During takeoff on the subsequent test flight, the airspeed indicator failed to register. But instead of flying by instinct, the Chinese pilot pushed the throttles all the way forward — and fire-walled the engines. He flew round the circuit for an emergency landing. If he didn’t make it on the first pass, he told the tower that he would ditch at sea. Fortunately, a flight engineer from Lockheed was onboard and realized what the problem was. He pulled the throttles back so that a safe landing speed was achieved.”

The Fulton-equipped B-17 that saved 007 in the movie Thunderball had also flown the longest B-17 mission ever (it lasted more than 19 hours and was flown over China by a Taiwanese pilot)

This final B-17 did perform a few more missions over the mainland in late 1959 and early 1960, even though the P-2 Neptune (named P2V by the US Navy before September 1962) was unquestionably superior for Signals intelligence (SIGINT) operations. One of these may have been the longest flight a B-17 has ever made, anywhere in the world.

A crew led by Col. Li De Feng flew the old wartime bomber over the provinces of Guangdong, Hunan, and Guizhou on February 26, 1960. They then continued over the Yunnan plateau before making a roughly identical return trip. For this flight, which took off from Hsinchu at 1600 on February 26, 1960, additional fuel tanks were fitted. They didn’t come back until 11:10 the following morning, which was 19 hours and 10 minutes later!

Notably, a display in the old 34th Squadron museum claims that this flight lasted 20 hours and 40 minutes! Long-distance flights in the B-17 were made possible, in accordance with former Black Bat pilot Dai Shu Qing, by the installation of an auxiliary fuel tank in the bomb bay. On the P-2, a comparable tank was added.

But in November 1960, the B-17 left the 34th Squadron. In 1961, it was delivered to the Skunk Works, where the ATIR jammer was installed in preparation for yet another secret mission. Four new engines have to be installed. The B-17 was subsequently fitted with the Fulton Skyhook and flown in Operation Coldfeet when it dropped and then extracted two Americans who investigated an ice station that the Soviet Union had abandoned in the Arctic. The same B-17, as demonstrated in the video below, rose to fame when the Skyhook was employed to pick up James Bond and his love interest at the conclusion of the movie Thunderball.

The Black Bats CIA Spy Flights over China from Taiwan 1951-1969 is published by Schiffer Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo by Screenshot from video and unknown

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